Aging Well

Aging Well

What is a death cafe?

Posted June 14, 2018 6:00 a.m. EDT
Updated June 14, 2018 12:59 p.m. EDT

A death cafe can be a welcome relief for those who are uncomfortable talking about death, theirs or a loved ones.

Someone recently forwarded an invitation for an upcoming Death Cafe. What is that, you might ask, as did I. I called the facilitator of the Raleigh-based Death Cafe, Heather Hill. Heather is a licensed funeral director at Renaissance Funeral Home in North Raleigh, where she typically hosts a Death Café once a month.

  1. What is a "death cafe?"
    Death Café is an international program intended to allow guests to discuss topics related to death and dying. There is never a planned agenda or planned speakers. The participants designate what the topics will be. Sometimes there is food. It is always non-judgmental. And believe it or not, it is not a morbid event! There is frequently laughter. Many guests leave with a new outlook on life and their own mortality. By accepting the reality of death, we tend to live fuller lives.
  2. Why did you start offering one?
    From my work with countless families, I've found that people really do want to talk about death and it's a relief to do so. I’m honored to provide a place that fills those needs. When we realize that we are truly mortal beings, we live differently. Furthermore, we should plan for our death. How do we want to be remembered? What is the soundtrack of our lives? I also find it personally comforting. Soon after I started my apprenticeship here, my husband died suddenly, leaving me with three kids under 9, not to mention a new career that would now need to take priority for me to support my family. I’ve found these conversations to be healing and fulfilling.
  3. What a Death Café is NOT!
    Death Café is not a grief support group, although we do speak about grief frequently. Death café is not a pre-planning program where any services are offered or inferred. Many in this area are used to the marketing of funeral homes. That is never what this is about. No marketing from any guest is allowed or appreciated.
  4. Who comes to a death cafe?
    We tend to have many folks who are employed or volunteer in the end of life or senior industries. We have guests of all ages, and walks of life. All are welcome, and I think everyone can take away positivity and inspiration.
  5. What is the format? How long does a typical one last?
    The Death Café usually runs about 2 hours with many folks coming early to talk to others and some stay a bit after to chat. The Death Café at Renaissance always involves food. We provide the main dish, which is usually sandwiches, and the guests are welcome to bring a side or a dessert. It usually begins around 6:30 and opens with us going around the room providing a brief introduction when people can tell us why they’re there. Usually a guest will start a conversation and then we all build upon that. We never have a lack of topics. We usually feel that we could spend more time, and sometimes we do.
  6. What kinds of things do you talk about?
    What is unique about the Death Café is that no two death cafes are alike. Some topics that have been covered in the past have included end-of-life care, hospice, current events regarding death, grief, pet loss, rituals, the music we want played at our funerals, ways to honor someone, creative ways to disperse cremated remains, how our own feelings about death have shaped us, religion and it’s role in death, etc. We have built a community and welcome new-comers.
  7. Tell me about a conversation that surprised you. Or one that was especially powerful.
    I am personally drawn to the conversations about how our thoughts about death and dying are shaped. What is it in our culture or our childhood that creates our denial or acceptance? I also enjoy the conversations about alternative burial choices, especially green burial.
  8. How do I find a death cafe near me? How often are they held? Where are they announced? Are there online ones, if I can't get out to one?
    Death Café’s are listed on the main death café website There is a directory where moderators can upload their events. We also post on our FB page or the Death Café Raleigh FB Page