Death can be scary, but that doesn’t mean we should be silent about it. So why not meet up with strangers, drink tea, eat cake, and discuss?
That’s exactly what happens at a death cafe, an agenda-free, judgment-free discussion group about death. Their official objective is “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.” These groups fall under the larger nonprofit Death Cafe social franchise, which means they’re run by volunteers who sign up to embody the organization’s principles and host events under the organization’s name.
The first death cafe was hosted by the model’s creator, Jon Underwood, at his house in East London back in 2011. Now, death cafes can be found all over the world, including two right here in Austin.
Heather Athena Black, organizer of the death cafe in North Austin, says that she hosts meetings so people can talk about their fears and be less afraid of death. As a hospice nurse, Black hopes this also helps participants better prepare for the inevitable reality and consider their options for end-of-life treatment.
“Too often people haven’t talked about what their wishes are at end of life. Grieving of loved ones is hard enough, trying to figure out what they want or don’t want at the same time is overly burdensome and often painful,” says Black. “Americans don’t like to talk about death. It is as though if we talk about it, it will make it happen. I am not saying Americans don’t respect death. We are just so loath to admit it.”
So how exactly does a Death Cafe event work? Black explains that at the North Austin meeting, they first go around and let everyone introduce themselves and, if they are comfortable sharing, explain why they have come. She then asks if anyone has a subject they want to talk about in particular. If not, Black will either bring up recent articles regarding death and dying (which could be medical, spiritual, or philosophical in nature) or use starter questions provided by the Death Cafe organization. And thus, the discussion takes off.
It's important to note that the meeting is neither a support group nor a how-to group. “The benefit of Death Cafe is to provide a safe place to talk about a very scary subject," Black explains."You will be with other people who will not judge you as being morbid or defeatist for wanting to consider our mortality, how, when, or even why we die.”
Death Cafe Austin North meets the second Sunday of each month from 3-4 pm at Monkey Nest Coffee, which is located at 5353 Burnet Rd. Austin’s other death cafe meets on the first Wednesday of the month from 6:30-8:30 pm at Life in the City church, which is located at 205 E. Monroe St. (Room 101).
To find out more about upcoming Death Cafe events in Austin, visit the Death Cafe Austin North Facebook page or the Death Cafe Austin Facebook page. Go to the Death Cafe website to learn more about the social franchise in general and how you can hold your own death cafe.