Our contacts at Age Scotland invited me to hold a death café with their members, and they also asked me to give a lecture about the ideas behind the international death café movement.
As a new lecturer in end of life studies here at the University of Glasgow, I thought this would be an excellent forum to talk publicly for the first time about my plans for some research into the death café phenomenon and what I think lies behind its widespread appeal.
It also offered a good opportunity to attend my very first death café!
Death cafés were first held in Paris in 2004, the brainchild of a sociologist called Bernard Crettaz. However, it wasn’t until Jon Underwood took up the idea in 2011, initiating a number of death cafes in London, that word began to spread. Underwood disseminated the death café model through a successful website and by generating significant press and social media coverage.
The concept clearly held international appeal, as death cafés have now been run all over the world.
In my presentation to Age Scotland members, which I gave at their meeting in New Cumnock on 31 October 2016, I explained that a death café is an event where attendees, usually strangers, meet over tea and cake to discuss all matters relating to death, dying, and bereavement.
The format is flexible and no conversation topic is off-limits. There are many death café organisers around the world who expound the virtues of attending such gatherings, insisting that they are, above all, life-affirming.
As my first and only experience of a death café to date I can say I found the discussion I was party to very thought-provoking and it confirmed a suspicion I have long held – that given the right setting, people are very willing to share intimate stories about their experiences of death and dying and that, far from being met with silence, these accounts prompt sympathetic responses from others and the retelling of similar or related experiences.
Within the group I joined for the death café, the discussion ranged from concerns about who would care for us in the future, experiences with dead bodies, last words to loved ones, and death education in schools.
All in the space of 20 minutes!
Here’s a short three-minute video which summarises the day and what participants thought of the death café:
I’d like to thank Iain Howie, who is a Regional Ambassador for Age Scotland in Dumfries and Galloway, for suggesting we take part. And also Heather Baillie, the Community Development Officer for Age Scotland, for organising the event.
I’d also like to thank everyone who came along, took part, and gave feedback.
A number of attendees said that they now wanted to hold their own death cafés back in their respective communities or places of work (for example, in care homes), so we look forward to hearing about these.
My research into the global spread and transfer of the death café concept will begin in 2017 and is part of the Global Interventions at the End of Life study, which is led by the University of Glasgow and supported by the Wellcome Trust.
I hope you’ll stay in touch and follow our research as it progresses.