“Death and grief are topics avoided at all costs in our society,” said Audrey Pellicano, 60, who hosts the New York Death Cafe, which will hold its fifth meeting on Wednesday. “If we talk about them, maybe we won’t fear them as much.”
Part dorm room chat session, part group therapy, Death Cafes are styled as intellectual salons, but in practice they tend to wind up being something slightly different — call it cafe society in the age of the meetup.
Mr. Underwood adapted the idea from a Swiss sociologist, Bernard Crettaz, who had organized “café mortels” to try to foster more open discussions of death. “There’s a growing recognition that the way we’ve outsourced death to the medical profession and to funeral directors hasn’t done us any favors,” Mr. Underwood said. He envisioned Death Cafe as “a space where people can discuss death and find meaning and reflect on what’s important and ask profound questions.”
Doctors and scholars who study attitudes toward death say that for most people, such conversations are healthy; talking about death can ease people’s fears and the notion that death is taboo. “A major part of American society is very averse to thinking about dying,” said David Barnard, a professor of ethics at the Oregon Health and Science University who has written extensively about the end of life.
In the United States, Death Cafes have spread quickly. The first one met last summer in a Panera Bread outside Columbus, Ohio, where guests were served tombstone-shaped cookies. Since then, more than 100 meetings have been held in cities and towns across the country, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Seattle.
The Death Cafe movement has a few ground rules. Meetings are confidential and not for profit. People must respect one another’s disparate beliefs and avoid proselytizing. And tea and cake play an important role.
“There’s a superstition that if you talk about death, you invite it closer,” said Mr. Underwood, the organizer in London. “But the consumption of food is a life-sustaining process. Cake normalizes things.”
Underwood has written a guide to running your own death cafe following the Death Cafe concept of tea, cake, conversation about deathPosted by Jill Fallon at June 19, 2013 9:26 PM | Permalink