Down at the Death Cafe

Coffee, snacks and the end of your life

Putting “death” and “cafe” together seems odd. In the United States, many ignore mortality. Americans tend not to accept that they will die, much less talk openly about it, especially with strangers. Going to a favorite cafe is something to enjoy. Being in a cafe talking about death may not seem appealing, yet it can be invigorating.

Death Cafes began in Europe. More than 5,400 monthly Death Cafes now exist in over 52 countries. Initiated in 2010 by John Underwood in London, they soon began happening in Sonoma County.

Adults sit around tables, share snacks and tea, and talk about their experiences, hopes and fears. The idea is to create a comfortable, informal and respectful environment where people can talk openly.

In Santa Rosa, Tess Lorraine has been facilitating them monthly since 2014, and will begin offering them at the Sebastopol Senior Center on Friday, Jan. 19, from 3:30pm to 5pm (open to all adults). Santa Rosa gatherings are at the Fountaingrove Lodge on Saturdays.

“As we age, conversations happen regarding degenerative and life-threatening diagnoses,” Lorraine says. “The cost of denial is that we lose opportunities for the wisdom, growth and healing that can occur when we share authentically. Death is our final frontier and our lasting legacy.”

According to, “At a Death Cafe, people gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death. Our objective is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to help people make the most of their (finite) lives’ . . . There is no intention to lead people to any conclusion, product or course of action.”

Death Cafes offer a structure and format that encourage conversation. Laughter is not unusual, especially as people get to know each other and feel comfortable enough to share in a safe, facilitated environment. Death Cafes are an indication of growing death awareness.

For more information and to get on the monthly email list for Sonoma County Death Cafe meetings, write to [email protected].

Shepherd Bliss is a retired college teacher. He can be reached at
[email protected].

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Sonoma County Library