The Death Café

Christin Ament (photo by Lisa Buck)

As someone who works in the medical field, and who deals with the dying every day, I have seen how distant health care providers can be from conversations about death. In Western culture, we tend to tiptoe around the reality of death in order to avoid the discomfort of discussing it.

While I don’t claim to be a Buddhist, the practices and teachings of Buddhism are the closest to a religious belief I have. I am fascinated, for example, by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and many writings and teachings around the way Eastern religions view the end of life — a different viewpoint from that of Christianity.

As a child, I was steeped in Christianity. I felt called to explore theology and wisdom in various religious texts, which serves me well now.

The many philosophical beliefs around end-of-life, as well as the beautiful moments before death that I’ve witnessed, have pushed me into offering the Death Café experience.

Death Café’s are designed to bring normalcy to mortality and demystify ideas around dying. The experience is not actually about being in a café, but is a gathering of people — often strangers — who met for refreshments and circle up to discuss death.

The only objective of these conversations is to increase awareness of death, with an undertone of helping people make the most of their finite lives.

The idea originated with a Swiss sociologist and anthropologist, who organized the first café in 2004. The movement found an advocate in a British Buddhist who evangelized the concept until his death at age 44.

There are now more than 7,000 organized groups worldwide, and membership continues to grow. In Minnesota, the Twin Cities chapter is the largest, meeting at Rogue Buddha Gallery in Northeast Minneapolis. There are occasional events in Duluth and in Rochester. Wisconsin has several offerings.

Each café takes on different topics, depending on the audience. That is the beauty of each session. Sometimes we dive into psychedelic drugs, sometimes into religion, sometimes into common fears. The attendees vary from people in their 20s to those over the age of 80, some with a terminal diagnosis.

It is a beautiful thing when people from all walks of life gather to discuss the one thing we all have in common: Death. The one truth that no one can deny, run from, or solve.