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Andres Rojas

- Healing Care Hospice Marketing Coordinator

At Healing Care’s Supporting Dignity at the End-of-Life Conference last year, I had the pleasure of meeting a genuine woman. She described a recent trend that has sprung up organically across the country called Death Cafes. Though the name is somewhat where people get together informally in coffee shops and community centers to discuss death and dying. I was intrigued by this idea and I decided to attend a meeting in Orange County.

What I encountered in this Death Cafe event was very surprising. It was a very warm and welcoming environment, consisting of people full of insight and information for those who seeked it. The meeting was held at the Susi Q Senior Center in Laguna Beach, a beautiful community center on the corner of a downtown neighborhood by the beach. As I entered the room, I was welcomed by soft piano music playing in the background, chairs placed in a circular fashion, with coffee, tea, and treats available for the guests.

The sun flooded the room with light through windows that stretched from the floor to floor. The meeting began with guided meditation. The moderator instructed us to close our eyes, clear our minds, and focus on our breathing. The moderator then directed us to place our hands on our head and stomach and repeat “we are here, I am here”.  

After meditation, the moderator began to explain the concept of a Death Cafe. A Death Cafe is a group discussion of death with no agenda, objectives, or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief group or counseling session; therefore, this gathering was an opportunity for conversation. The meetings help people understand death and answer any questions about death that have not been adequately answered by a medical professional. The objective of a Death Cafe is “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.”

We then started talking about death in different cultures, and how the process is different from that of western cultures. For instance, in Eastern traditions, people keep their relatives body in their house for the soul to pass, sometimes the body stays in the home longer than usual because they want the entire family to attend the ceremonies, even if they are coming from different countries.Someone else mentioned “there’s no difference between the way we live and the way we die, society decides that.”

The group proceeded to talk about other subjects that correlated with the grievance process of death. Such as losing your family pet, or not doing something when you were younger that you regret later. These issues come with the same baggage that losing a close person does, but the baggage is lighter.

Death Cafes have spread quickly across Europe, North America and Australasia. As of today, they have offered 6289 Death Cafes in 56 countries since September 2011. While the conversation about death is still very uncomfortable for some individuals, it has become easier for others to accept death as a part of their life and I believe it is because of groups like the death cafe, that make people more open to death.