Monday, 29 April 2013

Death Cafe conference call with the Celebrant Foundation & Institute

On April 18, Kristine Bentz, Holly Pruett and I spoke to 50 celebrants from the Celebrant Foundation & Institute at the invitation of Charlotte Eulette, the International Director. Below are some notes of the conversation taken by Susan Carpenter Sims. Thank you Charlotte and Susan and all those who took part.
There were over 50 people on this free call facilitated by Charlotte Eulette, with Jon Underwood, Kristine Bentz, and Holly Pruett.

Jon, who originated the Death Cafe movement in the U.K., coordinates with facilitators worldwide, and manages, spoke first about the basic elements of a Death Cafe: tea, cake, and conversation.

To date, there have been 81 Death Cafes so far around the world. 40 different people have hosted, with a total of about 1000 attendees. “The rate of growth is phenomenal,” said Jon. They have been held in England, the U.S., Canada, Australia, Scotland, Germany, Italy, etc. At Death Cafes, “something magical seems to happen,” Jon said. People meet as strangers and part as friends.

Life-Cycle Celebrant Kristine Bentz has held five monthly, Death Cafes so far in Tucson, AZ. They are 1.5 hours long, with the first 15 minutes for gathering and getting snacks. More and more people have been participating. “We're outgrowing our room,” she said, adding that there are some “regulars” but there are also often newcomers. “It's always surprising,” she said.

She spoke of Death Cafe's origins with a sociologist in Switzerland, Bernard Crettaz. In 2004, he held the first “Cafe Mortel.” Jon saw an article about this in The Independent, and did his first Death Cafe with his mother at home. Lizzy Miles was the first to bring it to the U.S. with a Death Cafe in Columbus, OH in the spring of 2012.

In order to use the name “Death Cafe” and be promoted by Jon on the website and social media, the event must adhere to certain principles. They must be open, safe, relaxed, respectful, and confidential, said Kristine. She emphasized the importance of setting that tone, and that it is not meant to be a bereavement support forum for people in “white hot grieving.” She also said that we're not there to lead anyone to any particular decision or course of action. People often come with products and services related to end-of-life, and it's alright if these come up naturally in conversation, she said, but promoting them is not the reason for gathering.

Kristine is also a home funeral guide, so she has extensive training around dealing with death. She said doing Death Cafes is part of “a continuum of experience.” It's about building community and a network of resources and opening people's minds. “I learn something every time,” she said.

Jon added that it's about meeting people where they are, with no agenda. You create a safe space and let people talk the way they want, so each Death Cafe is unique. He said the tone is generally light and friendly, not heavy. Death Cafes are aimed at people who aren't immediately dying or grieving, so the emphasis is on how best to live with the time we have left.

Venues for Death Cafes can vary; they have been held in homes, cafes, and other public spaces. They can be held at places like funeral homes as well. The Tucson ones have been held in the community room at a bookstore, said Kristine, but she is now planning “special edition” Death Cafes in different locations. In May, they will have a potluck Death Cafe outdoors around one an open fire. She suggested that “special editions” could also be held at places like a hospice facility or a community college. The main idea is that it needs to be somewhere that people are comfortable and refreshments are accessible, but there is a lot of flexibility within that. Jon added that “special edition” Death Cafes which are offered to a specific group can be very meaningful. He mentioned as an example a LGBT Death Cafe in existence.

Organizing Death Cafes around different themes and breaking into smaller discussion groups are two other variations that were discussed. Jon said the main thing is to trust your instincts and try different things. Kristine confirmed this and added that listening to participant feedback is also important.

Celebrant Holly Pruett is about to hold Portland, Oregon's first Death Cafe. She became interested when she was a CF & I student and Kristine was her instructor. Holly enjoys reading about other Death Cafes on the website. “It's a really wonderful global community,” she said. Holly has found Facebook to be a good way to promote Death Cafe, and has created a page for the Portland one, which has over 60 “likes.”

Kristine added that flyers, local newspaper postings, and email lists for those not on Facebook are also good ways to publicize.

During the call, questions came up about difficult scenarios that might arise with Death Cafe participants. Jon said this question comes up a lot and speaks to why it's important for the facilitator to have some skills in dealing with people, grieving, etc. However, he also said that so far, there have been no major issues. Kristine pointed out that having a co-facilitator and requiring RSVPs can help circumvent problems. When people RSVP, you can check in with them about their motivations for attending. If someone is wanting to attend because they are in intense grief, she will gently suggest local grieving circles or other appropriate resources, which she keeps listed in a notebook for that purpose.

Holly added that she has set up a phone number and email specifically for the Death Cafe so that it's not identified too much with her and so she can forward to her co-facilitators.

Jon said that one of the ultimate effects he'd like to see of the Death Cafe movement is for people like Celebrants, with knowledge and skills around end-of-life issues, to be more highly valued, but he also said that the, no matter our skill level, at a Death Cafe we're all just people going through life together, and that this equality is what gives Death Cafe its unique character.

Charlotte closed the call by encouraging Celebrants to keep in touch about what they're doing with Death Cafes.


  1. Thanks very much for your large information .And knowledge full description . I think it is Sus a topic that many kinds of people face many problems. thanks for this.
    meeting people,

  2. You made a number of good points there. I did a search on the subject and found many people will agree with your blog. I planned to take your Feed then again it does not work. i will probably keep trying maybe is a local issue. Regards, Lanette.


Say your piece.