Death is a funny subject. We all know it happens – it’s a part of life, or rather after life. People don’t really talk about it – it is not the sort of thing you talk over tea and cake about, but John Underwood is trying to change that. He is trying to start a movement. He is trying to set up a movement of “Death Cafes”. As he says,
“In continental Europe, there’s a tradition of meeting in a public place to talk about important and interesting subjects…So there’s a café philo, which is a philosophical cafe, and a caféscientifique. And Bernard Crettaz, he’s a Swiss sociologist, [who] set up a café mortel, or death cafe.”
He is not talking about setting up literal tea houses where you get tea and only talk about death – he wants to set up sort of events where people can be free to talk about what they so often don’t. Underwood held his first death cafe a year and a half ago in his basement. He set tea and cake, and his mother, who happens to be a psychotherapist, helped facilitate the event. Since then, he’s been working to launch this idea as a worldwide movement. He described the event saying,
“When people sit down to talk about death, the pretense kind of falls away, and people talk very openly and authentically, and they say things in front of strangers which are really profound and beautiful”
Underwood has set up a blog and guidelines to putting up a “death cafe” and now more than 60 death cafes have been set up all over the world, from Ohio to Australia. It is a way for people to start talking about death in ways they havent before – to be open about it. It makes people think as Underwood says,
“When we acknowledge that we’re going to die, it falls back on ourselves to ask the question, ‘Well, in this limited time that I’ve got, what’s important for me to do?’ “
and that’s something to think about over that cup of tea. So maybe next time you have a cuppa with a friend you can talk about what you don’t normally talk about. It doesn’t have to be death necessarily, but something you’re holding back. Everyone has pain and everyone has their own troubles – but it doesn’t mean they have to be shoveled down. That tea set, or that place in you’re favorite coffee shop, or in your mother’s kitchen can be a safe place for you where you can open up and drop the pretense. So cheers to Cafe Mortel, maybe there’ll be a death cafe near you.