Christine Davies, Managing Director of Casa Companion Homecare Solutions, attended a Death Café in El Cajon in October 2014. A Death Café is a place where people gather to drink tea, eat pastry, and talk about one of the few remaining taboo subjects in modern conversation – death. Death Café’s mission, from their website, is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’. Christine, who can be seen in this KPBS story which aired on November 26, 2014, said that the conversation gave her much to think about. “Initially, the subject may seem morbid and uncomfortable, but answering the questions and listening to others’ answers is eye-opening and inspiring. Whatever idea you may have of death, and what comes after, it makes you appreciate today, and highlight the intensity of life, much more. More than anything, I left with the feeling that life should be embraced, and talking about and planning for death will only lead to a more enhanced life.”
The original Café Mortel was conceived by a Swiss sociologist named Bernard Crettaz in 2004. Europe has a long tradition of intellectual salons, but Café Mortel is the first organized around the theme of death. A mother-son team of Brits in London launched the first Death Café in 2011, and the ‘social franchise’ phenomenon has spread to 23 countries. To date, 1439 events have been held around the world, with a full calendar already booked for 2015, and a physical café in the works for London. You can see a map of the Death Café locations worldwide on the Death Café website.
Death Café came to San Diego in May 2013 courtesy of Karen Van Dyke, owner of Senior Care By Design, a San Diego business that guides older adults and their families through the process of housing transition. Senior Care By Design helps clients find appropriate housing for the next stage of life based on health, level of independence, location and financial resources. Karen found that the older adults she was working with had arrived at this important transition point in life without having discussed critical legal, spiritual and financial issues with their families. She saw the Death Café environment as the ideal place to initiate these significant conversations. Karen says, “I am even more compassionate and patient with my clients than I have ever been. I feel the frustration and chaos when they come to me and know quickly that conversations about this part of their lives have not taken place. I’m more courageous with these families as well wanting to do what I can to help them create this time in their lives to be rich with life experiences instead of avoiding the unavoidable.”
Death Cafés were conceived as a social franchise, so anyone who agrees to abide by the principles and guidelines of the flagship chapter can launch their own chapter and hold official meetings. Death Cafés have become more popular in San Diego since the original meeting Karen held, and she has three events scheduled in San Diego County just for January 2015. Find an event using the zip code ‘finder’, or keep up with announcements by ‘liking’ the Death Café San Diego Facebook page.
Christine Davies encourages everyone to attend a Death Café, since both children and parents need a safe space to consider and discuss these ideas. She says, “Working in senior care, I am continually faced with the prospect of death and dying, and am privy to the end of life decisions that individuals and their families are making. While it’s not easy to deal with, I do not feel troubled working in this space because I have had the conversations and have given it careful thought. Death Cafés provide a catalyst to discussing the practical and the ethereal in a thoughtful and sensitive space that is free of judgment. I am a daughter of aging parents myself, and I know it’s essential that children have these conversations with their parents. Once you know what your parents want, the process of growing older is easier and more comfortable for everyone.” As Karen Van Dyke tweeted earlier this year @SrCarebyDesign, “Planning for the Golden Years does not just include building your retirement.”