I’ve Led 50 Death Cafes:
Here Are 50 Things I Learned.
BY BILL PALMER, FOUNDER OF DEATH CAFÉ OAKLAND
Wait, what? Death Café?
Death Café was founded in the UK in 2011 by Jon Underwood. People gather to discuss death— fear and frustration,
dread and despair, grief and gloom, as well as hope and happiness, resilience and resolve, jokes and joy, There is no
format other than open and free discussion about any aspect of death.
Everything is discussed, from the most mundane and obscure details of wills and funerals to wonderings about bodily
decomposition to the deepest and most profound philosophical and spiritual concerns. There have now been over
4000 Death Cafes in 40 countries.
There is no suggested course of action, no philosophy or set of beliefs imposed by the leader. There is often, humor. I’ve
never been to a Death Café where there was not laughter.
I founded Death Café in Oakland in 2013, and after the first 50 (there have been 56 of them) I decided to explore what I
1. How we die in America is largely a function of race
2. A surprising percentage of adults in Death Cafes simply
do not accept that their death is real.
3. The overwhelming percentage of
people in Death Cafes Oakland
are women. This is true globally as
well. Is it because men frequently
off-load much of their emotional
life to women?
4. Many people in Death Cafes are grieving losses that are
10, 20, 30, 40 or more years in the past.
5. Those who cared for a loved one for a long time before
their loved one’s death report that they felt a deep shame
over the dominant emotion they experienced when
death finally came: relief.
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6. Denial can be a lovely place
7. Many report that they feel numb after the death of a loved
one, but feel devastated after the loss of a pet.
8. The approach of death for some means the long, slow
loss of mobility, capability, sensibility, affability and
availability. This progression is more dreaded than
9. There is laughter at every Death
Café. Some of it is the nervous
laughter of touching and speaking
cultural taboos around death. Some
of it is the deep appreciation that
fear of death is fear of life.