International movement makes its way to region

A growing international movement brings death to the forefront and offers a welcoming environment in which to discuss ideas, hopes, fears and other thoughts people might have about the end of life — the death cafe.

A death cafe is meant to be “a group-directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counselling session,” according to the movement’s website,

“Our objective is to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives,” according to the website.

Death cafes have been popping up around the world since Londoner Jon Underwood held his own version of the cafe at his home in September of 2011.

He was inspired by the ideas of “death cafe pioneer” Bernard Crettaz, a Swiss sociologist who was featured in an edition of the United Kingdom news source, Independent. The article reported that Crettaz, who started the death cafe in his homeland of Switzerland in 2004, hoped to spread it to areas that consider talking about death to be taboo.

The article said Crettaz held a cafe in Paris in 2010 as part of his mission “to liberate death from what he calls ‘tyrannical secrecy.’ “ Crettaz also wrote the book “Cafes Mortels: Sortir la Mort du Silence,” or “Death Cafes: Bringing Death Out of Silence.”

Underwood passed away last June, but his sister and mother are continuing his work.

Death cafe is considered a social franchise, meaning people who affiliate themselves with the movement via its website may use the name death cafe and post events to the website.

“As of today, we have offered 5,692 death cafes in 52 countries since September 2011. If 10 people came to each one, that would be 56,920 participants. We’ve established both that there are people who are keen to talk about death and that many are passionate enough to organize their own death cafe,” the website states.

Information to help people organize their own death cafes also is available on the website. The suggestion is to schedule a meeting in a cafe, someone’s home, or other venue where folks can chat over coffee, tea and comforting confections. The website discourages facilitators from creating agendas, stating the conversation should be group-led and natural.

The website also provides a map that shows the cafes nearest to an individual.

For residents of Lycoming County and the surrounding area, the nearest meetings are in Williamsport and Lewisburg. The website indicates meetings also were held in Mansfield, but that group seems to be inactive.

The Williamsport cafes are held weekly, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays at the First Church of Christ on Almond Street. In Lewisburg, the cafes are held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at the Lewisburg Hotel on Market Street.