8 Ideas To Borrow From The Phenomenon of the “Death Cafe” At Your Funeral Home

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down! 

That’s the idea behind Death Cafe, a safe space for people to gather, talk about death and find community with a side of cake. You can get a better idea of their mission in this video celebrating their recent 8th birthday:

As the death positive movement grows, so does the need for spaces to gather and share ideas. With over 66 countries participating in Death Cafes, it’s clear that death positive people are hungry to talk with like-minded folks. And that’s good news for funeral professionals everywhere, because the less stigma there is around death, the better we can serve families! 

There is a lot to learn from the Death Cafe phenomenon, and so many ways to support your funeral home and the “death positive” movement, so they can  grow together.

Check out these 8 ideas for your funeral home to borrow from the Death Cafe movement today:


#1 Atmosphere is everything

It’s much easier to broach unnerving topics like death in a cozy and welcoming space. Thats why so many Death Cafes take place in actual cafes! By making your funeral home atmosphere cozy and inviting, you’ll find that people can relax and be more present at the events you host. 

Tailor the environment to the event you’re hosting; celebrations of life usually call for color and exciting decorations, a grief group more subdued and warm. Adding personal touches to the space help people feel welcome and they are more likely to open up and really experience the service you are offering them. 

Read More: How to Host Non-Creepy, Effective In-Person Gatherings At Your Funeral Home


#2 Building community is the core of the work

Death Cafes are all about people coming together to feel less alone when facing death. Sounds really similar to a good funeral service doesn’t it? That’s because building community is really what it’s all about for funeral professionals and the death positive movement. 

So how can you be a community builder at your funeral home? Consider partnering with local businesses who provide the services your families need within their local network. Or how about providing a digital space for family members to reminisce and reconnect on your memorial website platform? You can even host a Death Cafe at your funeral home of course! There are so many ways for your funeral home to be at the center of the communities you serve, provide the space and they will come.


#3 Refreshments are a must

“There’s a superstition that if you talk about death, you invite it closer, but the consumption of food is a life-sustaining process. Cake normalizes things.”

— Jon Underwood, Death Cafe founder 

Honestly, some people might just be showing up for the cake and then stay for the conversation! Providing nourishment is one of the easiest ways to show you want people to feel taken care of. Food gathers people together and gives the cue that we’re still celebrating and enjoying life. Whether it’s an event you’re hosting or a funeral service, don’t overlook the importance of a nibble. Even if it’s just a plate of cookies and some sparkling water, a little goes a long way here.


#4 Holding space instead of giving a lecture

“The Death Cafe model doesn’t include having specific topics, set questions and (in particular) guest speakers. We ask you not to have these at your Death Cafes. Our view is that, when it comes to death, people have enough to discuss already.” 

How to Hold Your Own Death Cafe

It’s easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself to be the host during events at your funeral home. It’s also tempting to fill up people’s time and always have the right thing to say. Luckily, the Death Cafe model reminds us that it’s not about having answers or a prepared speech; you just need to hold the space for people to speak their minds and feel heard! Some may need a few guiding questions here or there, but for the most part, people are full of words they’re just waiting for someone to hear. 

This is a great reminder of the difference between practicing empathy versus sympathy – holding the space for someone to feel their feelings, rather than trying to change the feelings or fill up the space with your own. 

#5 Center serving rather than selling

One of the only rules of the Death Cafe is there is absolutely no selling of services allowed. How does this help your funeral home? It’s a reminder to center serving families rather than selling to them! Start a conversation, not a sales pitch. Remember that families are facing so many decisions and need you to help them know what their options are. They may not even know how personal and unique they can make their loved ones service, and they never will if you’re too focused on prices rather than personalization ideas

Service is the heart of what great funeral directors provide. Families will always remember the people who went above and beyond to center their needs and comfort above all else.


#6 Anyone can lend a listening ear

One of the most inspiring things about Death Cafes is that anyone can host one! You don’t have to be a death care professional to gather people together to talk about death. You just need to be a good listener with an open mind. Of course, part of being a stellar funeral director is being awesome at active listening. It can be easy to let this tool fall to the wayside, so make sure to brush up on your listening skills! Check out this little refresher course to find how what it truly means to be a good listener in the funeral profession. 


#7 You don’t have to fully embrace death to prepare for it

“If we attempt to broach the subject with my mom, she’ll just go,  ‘Are you trying to get rid of me?’ And that’s really her response — she doesn’t want to have the conversation, so we’re having the conversation. And it is changing how we’re dealing with the dead in our family.” 

Death Cafes Breathe Life into Conversations About Dying 

It may seem like accepting death is the goal of Death Cafes, but it’s really about allowing people to talk about death, no matter where they are at in the process of accepting it. And you really don’t have to accept death or feel positive about it to begin planning for a good death, or to at least let your family begin the process. 

A huge part of being a funeral director is meeting families where they are at. They may not be ready to make any commitments, but they can at least be ready to talk about the options. And through the process of being supported they’ll start to see that pre need planning and at need funeral service planning alike can be uplifting and empowering! 


#8 Accepting death helps us celebrate life

“When we acknowledge that we’re going to die, it falls back on ourselves to ask the question, ‘Well, in this limited time that I’ve got, what’s important for me to do?’ “

— Jon Underwood, Death Cafe founder  

This one is no secret, we’ve written about it many times before, but it bears repeating! We see it in the movement away from traditional funerals towards personalized celebrations of life and we’re happy to see this idea be embraced by many generations to come. 

By offering pre need planning services you allow families to have the weight of worry lifted off of them they can truly enjoy the time they have left. And when the time comes for their families to celebrate their life, they’ll have plenty of joyful material for their one-of-a-kind life tribute. By providing space for families to process death and come to terms with this fact of life, you are helping to inspire everyone to live their life to its fullest and have a good life along with a good death. 

We hope you’ve found these ideas illuminating and they inspire you to approach the topic of death with some sweetness! 


What do you think about Death Cafes? Would you attend one or even host one in your funeral home? We’d love to hear more in the comments below!

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments.

  1. Tracy

    Death Cafes are valuable safe spaces to rehearse death speak and explore your own views – as a host I find there can be tears but an awful lot of laughter and fascinating ideas and people. We talk about embalming, sky burial and flowers to how we want our own lives to end. Try visiting one, it won’t kill you x

  2. Krystal Penrose

    Thanks Tracy for the work you do! We would love to have you write a guest post for us about your experience if you’d like to! Blessings!