Death Café: Increasing Awareness of Inevitable

Death Café: Increasing Awareness of Inevitable


Process loss with neighbors at quarterly meeting

In a pretty little cottage in a lovely little garden, there will be a table set with tea, cake and a few other munchies for the indulgers. There will be a circle of chairs — maybe 15 or so. At one end of the table, there will be name tags and pens and, after writing your name on one and assembling a small plate of treats, you will be invited to sit with a few others and talk about death. You will have arrived at the Death Café.

Alameda is privileged to have a meeting all of its own. The local offering is part of an international movement begun in England in 2011, when Jon Underwood, joined by his mother, Sue Barsky Reid, a psychotherapist, held the first Death Café as a way to open a discussion about death. Since that time, there have been more than 3,000 meetings of the Death Cafe held all over the world.

The objective is simple: meetings are held “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of the (finite) lives.” (See There is no staff, no agenda and few rules beyond being respectful of others and not proselytizing. Oh, and cake must be served!

The local meetings started in November 2013, in a small meeting room that comfortably held 15 but filled to overflowing with a total of 23 people squished together to find out what this group had to offer. Since that first meeting, there have been a handful of people who have continued to attend the quarterly meetings, along with a steady stream of newcomers, curious about this phenomenon. All are welcome.

While this is not a grief support group, people who have suffered a loss find themselves there, joined by others who have been moved by the death journey of someone or by those who have thought of their own future journey and have questions, concerns, comments, curiosity. 

Topics have included the usual: estate planning, hospice, medical considerations, having “the conversation” with loved ones, after-death scenarios. And there have been more challenging topics raised: conflicting feelings, guilt, fears, suffering, sensing the presence of someone after their death. Any topic is fair game.

The facilitators of Alameda’s Death Café are Susan Barber and Christine Kovach, long-time colleagues in hospice settings and groups related to end-of-life and grief care concerns. Barbor is currently the community education and volunteer coordinator at Mission Hospice in San Mateo and Kovach is a social worker and family therapist with a local private practice, continuing to work with people at the end of their lives, those living with chronic illness or with clients who have just experienced the death of a loved one. 

The next Death Café will be held Sunday, June 5, from 2 to 4 p.m. in that sweet little cottage behind the Home of Truth Spiritual Center, 1300 Grand St. All are welcome and there is no charge. While not required, an RSVP to would be appreciated.



Laurel Yeates is a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, doula, nanny, Alameda Sun calendar editor and a nascent thanatologist.