Story #3: Death Café

Death for Dinner

           Imagine taking your date to a restaurant and discovering that death is on the menu. That’s what happens at a Death Café.

           A Death Café is a discussion among a group of people, often strangers, who come together to drink tea and eat cake − and talk about death.

           Karen Weisbaum, a professor at St. Lawrence College, recently organized an event based on the Death Café model at the Kingston campus, where she teaches health law, ethics and policy in the Health Care Administration Program. The event, held over the lunch period, served as an introduction to several end-of-life issues that she planned to discuss in class with students, such as organ donation and living wills.

           “Death Café is an opportunity to talk about death in whatever form it takes,” says Karen.

            A Death Café is a forum to discuss an often-taboo subject that happens to everyone. The purpose is to increase our understanding of death and remove some of the anxiety and fear about dying. Ideally, talking about death should help people make the most of living, Karen says.

           “In our program, we don’t really talk about it [death] too much, and I think we need to,” says Karen. “The likelihood is that some of our graduates will get work in places like long-term care facilities. We need people there. We have an aging population.”

            The concept of an informal social event to talk about death was introduced in 2004 by a Swiss sociologist and later developed into the Death Café model by Jon Underwood of the United Kingdom. Death Cafes have been held in more than 60 countries.

            “Palliative care, end-of-life care and medical assistance in dying are all part of a continuum of care,” Karen says. In the Health Care Administration Program,  “we should be talking about how we should be doing it.”

             Karen says that talking about death has made her more compassionate and understanding of others’ feelings and emotions. Her parents, who are both in their late 80s and healthy, have also served as unexpected role models in their approach to dying.

            “When they think about death, they’re ready,” she says.

            “I think that’s a gift of old age. I think there’s a certain point in life where most people realize their own mortality and it invokes fear. Then there’s acceptance or growth or learning − or something. I see in older people a great comfort with that.”


− Michelle Martinez Barajas and Ibinabo Fyneman-Kalio


To learn more about Death Cafés, visit