“Death Cafe”–Not Exactly a Last Supper

Before I knew what a “death cafe” referred to, I pictured a collection of skulls clacking away as they helped themselves to a buffet, with soft foods and liquids being the most favored by far. “Death cafe?” How could food and death be juxtapositioned? One of the leading graphics in an article that  unveiled the meaning of this phrase showed elegant blue and white dishware obediently standing in a holder. A skull took up the center of each plate, hogging all the blue, leaving the white to fill in the periphery. Written on the rim was “Bone appetit.” See that? I’m not the only one who thinks like I do.

“Death cafes” are part of a movement to break cultural taboos against openly discussing such topics as how we want to be remembered, how to bring up the subject of dying with loved ones and how we want our funerals to be conducted. The food part, making this subject a bit easier to swallow, usually consists of beverages and snacks.The very first death cafes began in 2004 and really took off in 2011. The organizers say that by now approximately one thousand people have attended them in countries such as England, Australia, the United States, and Italy.

My husband Steve and I, both of us curiosity seekers, went to a death cafe in someone’s home  the middle of this month. We helped ourselves to some snacks–the best one was guava paste and cheese spread on crackers–and waited our turn to answer the question of why we  were there. Many people said they were open to discussing it because they had lost a loved one at a tender age, or they themselves were young when someone very close to them had died. My answer was that I wanted to see what people were saying about this topic and that I thought I might get ideas for my blog posts. (See?)

We then had to complete the phrase, “Death is……” Naturally I said, “Death is at the edge.” I say naturally because my book title is “Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died” (Pen-L Publishing) Later when we broke into smaller groups, I said that when I contemplate this edge, it throws life, which is on the other side of that edge, into sharper relief.

I figured that I would have to forgo retrieving any humorous gems from this particular event, but luckily someone said, “Oh, I thought this event was called a “Death Cave.” “Death Cave?” Oh, is that where thoughts on death end up after we chew the fat? When Steve and I laughed about that on the way home, he said “that sounds like the Flintstones were going to host the event.” It’s about time. I never have ever heard Fred and Wilma  address the issue, have you?

For related article, see https://offbeatcompassion.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/death-cafes-home-of-the-death-deniers/

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7 thoughts on ““Death Cafe”–Not Exactly a Last Supper

  1. Dia says:

    I heard about Death Cafes for the first time in (I think) a New York Times article a month or so ago and was intrigued, it’s nice to hear from someone who’s attended. It certainly seems like conversations about end-of-life subjects are opening up more although it seems like it’s still easier for people to discuss death than it is to talk about dying. LOVE breaking this taboo! Thanks Karen.

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    • Karen B. Kaplan says:

      You make an excellent point about it being easier to ponder death than to discuss dying. Maybe that’s because death is more abstract and can be taken at an intellectual remove whereas dying is up front and personal. It can evoke thoughts of pain, fear and loss. I will keep this distinction in mind going forward, so many thanks for the astute comment. -karen

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  2. Cathy says:

    Death cave – sounds like either a place to die or a place to be buried. It reminds me of my Kansas City friend who says “just put me out on a platform for the elements to take care of”. I think my mind tends that direction because I am undecided about what to tell my family to do with my body when I die.

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    • Karen B. Kaplan says:

      Come to think of it, the Bible in the Book of Genesis says that Abraham bought the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron from the Hittites for his wife Sarah’s burial.
      Why are you undecided about your final resting place? What might help you decide?

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