A Death Cafe is a scheduled non-profit get-together called "social franchises" by the organizers for the purpose of talking about death over food and drink, usually tea and cake.
The goal of these nonprofit groups is to educate and help others become more familiar with the end of life. The idea originates with the Swiss sociologist and anthropologist Bernard Crettaz, who organized the first café mortel in 2004.
They have since been held in several countries, beginning with France and the United Kingdom.
The death café is not a physical location, but is an event hosted at someone’s house. The official objective of a death café is to increase understanding of death while also creating a chance for health/care professionals to talk about death.
The death café has about 15-25 people gathered in small groups discussing death related topics and usually lasts 2 hours. Tea and cake are one of the most important features to the event as they make it appear friendly and appealing. The concept has spread due to media attention and because of the topic evoking so many different people’s thoughts of what death means.
Crettaz organized the first Death Cafe in Neuchâtel in 2004 with the aim of breaking the tyrannical secrecy surrounding the topic of death.He has written a book on the topic, Cafés Mortels: Sortir la Mort du Silence (Death Cafes: Bringing Death out of Silence)The Death Cafe website states the purpose as:
At a Death Cafe people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death. Our objective is 'to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives'.
Facilitators have said that there isa need among people to open the closet into which death, the last taboo,has been placed, to reduce fear and enable people to live more fully.He has said that at these gatherings, the assembled company, for a moment, and thanks to death, is born into authenticity.
Jon Underwood, a former council worker and web developer who introduced the idea to London, says that "we have lost control of one of the most significant events we ever have to face."
According to one commentator, Crettaz wants to revive the pagan tradition of the funeral feast, where the living would renew their bonds while letting go of what weighed on their hearts.
The first Paris event took place in 2010 and Underwood held the first London event in 2011,subsequently setting up a website and codifying guidelines.The first US event was organized by Lizzy Miles, a hospice worker, in summer 2012 near Columbus, Ohio.
By June 2014, the idea had spread to Hong Kong.As of July 2014, almost 1,000 have been held worldwide. Venues include homes and rented halls as well as restaurants and cafes;a cemeteryand a yurt have also been used.Café Totentanz or Totentanz-Café is used in German-speaking areas.In February 2013, a Death Cafe in London was filmed.
Death cafes have helped to relax the taboo against speaking about death, particularly with strangers, and encouraged people to express their own wishes for after they die.
The open ended discussions also provide an avenue to express thoughts about one's own life stirred up by the death of a family member.