Death Cafes

In American society, one of the strongest taboos is against death. Death is viewed as a sensitive and uncomfortable subject that many individuals choose to avoid due to the negative connotation associated with it. Due to this, death is not something discussed openly in public, therefore, there has recently been an outburst in what is known as death cafes. These death cafes are exactly what they sound like; cafes dedicated to the topic of death.

Originally starting in Europe, death cafes have spread to America in the past several years. They provide a comfortable setting where people who have lost someone can openly grieve with others and relate with one another. The people who go to these cafes come from various backgrounds, varying from a widow to a hospice nurse. One of the interviewees from the article is a pastor and what really struck me as surprising is how he views death as a “great intimacy than sex.” Because death is viewed as such a private matter, many individuals do not get the support they need when someone they love dies. Friends and family members only give the person a certain time period to mourn for their loss and then grieve in silence. Thus, these death cafes provide a place of relief and complete openness where no emotions or thoughts have to be censored.


The need to create these death cafes demonstrates how uneasy death makes society feel— to the point where death cafes to serve as a safe place where people who have dealt with death can cope and feel free to express themselves. I thought this really tied in to what we have talked about in class before of how in many cultures dealing with death is a very private affair or mourners are given a certain time frame where they are allowed to grieve and afterwards they can no longer grieve in public. This mentality shows why the creation of death cafes has become so popular and also shows how sad it is that in order to talk about death freely, it must be in a secluded area away from the majority of society. This shows that we have a long way to go on our approach towards death and the taboo that surrounds it.



3 responses to “Death Cafes

  1. William Kyle Rush

    So people just get together to talk about death? Or is this just about grieving in a public space? The comment comparing the intimacy of death to sex is kind of interesting because it seems that there’s always this comparison of death to sex, whether it’s used as an example of what death is not like, or an example of what death is like. Perhaps this comparison is especially appropriate because sex was for the most part ignored in public discourse historically, and even now there is a stigma to having sex in certain contexts (for example outside of marriage or with various partners that don’t fit the normative expectations of sexual partners). Just like sex is not approved by society in some situations, discussion of death is forbidden in certain arenas, such as public spaces.

    This is also interesting to me because it combines a ubiquitous setting (the cafe) with such a taboo topic. Death is incredibly shielded from public conversations, so the juxtaposition of death with a symbol of common culture makes for an interesting and provocative combination. Just the idea of a death cafe in itself is fascinating because it challenges all of our commonly held ideas of death as a topic of conversation that is off-limits, and how it suspends the social stigma on public displays of grief to offer the patrons a sort of cathartic experience.

  2. The emergence of death cafes seem to be positive coping mechanisms for the bereaved. Especially, in the secular world of western society where depression and other psychological issues are so commonly obtained by members in the community. Many people struggle with death and especially death of a loved one, and the lack of openness to discussions or embracement of death in western society do not help to foster coping mechanisms. Some bereaved go to the extent of their own suicides because of the immense struggle to cope with death. There other cultures that embrace death in the social community, and have cultural rituals that help the bereaved let go of their emotions and observe their transformation in a more intimate light.
    I agree with the pastor in the article, when he talks about how people around the bereaved are not sensitive to the state of his grief. People may have serious and sorry face the first day but by the third day they want to joke with you. This insensitivity to grief and mourning very well correlates with the taboo towards death in western society that you mentioned in your blog.

  3. This is an interesting phenomenon. I was under the impression that the cafes were more about providing a meeting point for people who were interested in discussing death (and other topics) seriously with others who share the interest. I did not realize that they were specifically meant to provide a venue for people experiencing death.

    I’m not quite sure I believe that discussing death (or sex for that matter) os generally stigmatized in either the US or in the West. It seems to me that we constantly encounter discourses about death (and sex) and accept, expect and even enjoy these encounters. So maybe we can be more precise. It may be that we are hesitant to discuss mourning or grieving and perhaps even less likely to publicly enact these . This raises, I think, a very interesting question: why is it that “we” (whoever that is meant to indicate) are comfortable with images of death, but less so with grieving? What accounts for the free circulation of discourses about some aspects of death and the fairly limited circulations of others?

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