Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens

Death Cafe – My first experience

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Yesterday evening I had the chance to attend my first Death Cafe, the second one ever held in St. John’s. It was a wonderful experience that I wanted to discuss through the medium of this blog!

Firstly though, what exactly is a Death Cafe?

The premise of the event is people who may or may not already know one another gather together to drink tea/coffee, eat cakes, and discuss death and dying. The concept was created by John Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid, and the first Cafe was held in the UK in 2011. Since then, over 4000 Death Cafes have been held in 50 countries. It isn’t meant to be structured, just people asking questions and exploring the subject of death and dying organically. You can find out more about how to set up and run your own Death Cafe at their website HERE!

I first heard about the concept of Death Cafe through the wonderful folks over at The Order of the Good Death, and was immediately intrigued, but when I looked into them there didn’t seem to be many held in Canada, let alone Newfoundland. Then in March, while I was attending the Transmortality conference in Luxembourg, one of the presentations mentioned running Death Cafes as a means to help people engage with death. Just a few weeks ago, a friend mentioned to me that the second Death Cafe in St. John’s was being held in June and my first thought was ‘how did I miss the first one?!’ 

Fast forward to yesterday! I had no idea what to expect going into it, since I normally talk about death in a half scientific / half social capacity with my colleagues since it’s my research area. (The email suggested slippers, so of course I brought my moose & rabbit slippers!). After getting a cup of tea me and my friends settled down on some chairs and introduced ourselves to everyone. It was a very mixed group, in age rage and occupation, which made for some very interesting conversations!

I appreciated the discussion cards on all the tables, with death-y prompts and questions on them to get the conversations going. It’s hard to speak in groups of strangers sometimes, especially about difficult subject matter so it was great to explore the range of questions provided on the cards! The parts I enjoyed the most were the smaller group discussions, where it was easier to contribute to the conversations. For a short while we were all sitting in one group and it was hard to have a conversation. The smaller group discussions were much more intimate and enjoyable over all!

If you’ve never attended a Death Cafe, I definitely recommend it. It’s a lovely atmosphere to discuss death and dying in, especially if you haven’t had much of a chance to have an open conversation and ask those questions you’ve always wanted to know the answers to. I very much enjoyed the experience, and if I’m able I’ll definitely be attending the next one! I definitely came out of the Cafe with more discussion questions than I had going in, so I’ll try my best to remember them for the next one.

Author: Robyn S. Lacy

Archaeologist / Cultural Heritage / Burial Ground Restoration

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