4. How death cafes are de-stigmatizing death
An ongoing movement of “death cafes” — open salons for discussing death, with no set agenda — is spreading across America with the goal of ending the taboo around talking about dying, Jessie Li reports.
The big picture: The number of Americans 65 and older is on course to double from 46 million to over 98 million by 2060. Aided by a growing culture of sharing and openness in society, the future of these aging boomers is spurring conversations about aging and dying.
Between the lines: Step into a death cafe and the first thing you’ll notice is that it doesn’t necessarily look like a group of people conversing about the end of life.
- There's cake. There's tea. There's laughter.
- That’s part of the approach, says Sarah Farr, founder of Death Positive DC and a death cafe organizer. “Life is funny. And sometimes using humor can lighten the conversation a bit.”
Anyone can host a death cafe at a local coffee shop, library or public space. Anyone can show up. Anyone can contribute, or just listen.
At death cafes, topics can range from logistical to mystical: from writing your will to what happens to the soul after death.
- “Coco comes up a lot. It's a Disney kids movie. But it's such a beautiful movie about death and staying connected to our dead loved ones,” Farr says.
Death cafes aren’t just for those who are aging or have terminal illnesses.
- High school students who have lost a parent, a sibling or a friend; ICU nurses burnt out from seeing how death is treated in hospitals; government desk workers — these are all people who have participated in death cafes run by Nicole Heidbreder, a D.C.-based hospice nurse.
The bottom line: Today, death cafe organizers are seeing more momentum around talking about death.
- Greater attention from the news and social media, grassroots work, awareness from mass shootings and the rise of doctors who have become household names — like Atul Gawande and BJ Miller — is changing how Americans talk about death.
- Farr says, "In all these conversations, what we're really getting at is looking at our own lives. How do we want to live? What are we going to do with the time that we have?"