Let Them Eat Cake (and Talk About Death, Too)
On a gray Sunday in March, Bigelow Chapel opened to reveal a room of tablecloth-cloaked tables, flickering candles, thermoses of tea, and a cheery frosted cake announcing Mount Auburn’s 1st Death Café. Attendees poured in, curious and eager to dive into conversation. Nearly two hours later, everyone emerged a bit lighter from their conversations, and a crumb fuller from the sweet confection.
The Death Café model, developed by Jon Underwood in England (and inspired by Bernard Crettaz), is an opportunity for people to come together to drink tea, eat cake, and discuss death. It is not a bereavement group or end-of-life event; it is a chance to muse openly with others about what death means in regards to life.
With those simple rules in place, Mount Auburn invited the community in for this important conversation. 35 strangers, and five staff and volunteer facilitators, circled the tables around the room and quickly leapt into animated discussions of loss, philosophical examinations of death, and the pursuit to understand the meaning of a good death. No topic was taboo or too sensitive to explore.
In teasing out our own relationships with death – anxieties, sorrows, hopes, and regrets – we found common ground. Attendees exchanged phone numbers to continue their conversations and engage in ‘death circles;’ the sound of laughter frequently punctuated the event and emphasized a comfort with the topic. When asked about her experience at the Death Café, Mount Auburn Cemetery Volunteer Roberta Messina explained, “I sat with people I had never met. In our own way we each expressed how precious life is and the importance of living life to the fullest, sharing thoughts about loved ones who had died, and about the future. By the end of my first Death Café I had been inspired by others in ways I had not expected, grateful for each person and the whole experience.”
The top three words used most frequently to describe the Death Café, as indicated by a feedback survey completed by attendees at the conclusion of the event, were “comforting,” “inspiring,” and “interesting.” We hope you’ll join us at a future Death Café to share your perspective on this intriguing, universal topic.
Mount Auburn will hold its second and third Death Cafés on June 1st (at 10 AM and 1 PM). At the time of this writing, the 1 PM Café is filled to capacity, and the other has limited space remaining.
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