Information on How to Join the Conversation about Death

A Photo of Anne Strainchamps

Do you know how you want to be treated at the end of your life – or what matters most to a loved one? These aren’t the easiest conversations to begin. Luckily, there’s lots of help out there if you know where to look. And if dropping in on a Death Café, or hosting a Death Dinner sounds intriguing, here are some of our favorite people and organizations. These are a few of our personal "Death Heroes" – people advancing the conversation about death.

Start the Conversation

For help thinking – and talking – about the end of life, The Conversation Project, directed by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Ellen Goodman, offers a free Conversation Starter Kit. It comes with questionnaires designed to help you get your thoughts together and plan a family discussion, as well as suggested icebreakers and tips for keeping the conversation going. The Conversation Starter Kit can be downloaded, printed, or filled out online, and is available in English, Spanish, French and Mandarin.

Host a Death Dinner

Launched in 2013, Death Over Dinner is an international campaign inspiring thousands of people to organize meals in which guests share food, wine and conversation about the ultimate topic: death. Dinners begin with wine and a toast to absent loved ones. Founder Michael Hebb believes sharing a meal is the key to fostering relaxed, intimate and frank conversations about death. “This is what the table does well,” he says. For those curious about hosting a death dinner, the website will walk people through the process, offering customized invitations, discussion questions and even a selection of pre-dinner homework.

Attend a Death Café

At Death Cafés, people, often strangers, gather to drink coffee, eat cake, and share open-ended discussions of death. Founded in East London in 2011 by Jon Underwood, there are now more than 1,000 death cafés in 26 countries. To find one near you, consult the Death Café worldwide map. Or, start your own. You’ll find instructions here. There’s also a lively Death Café community on Facebook.

Check out a Death Salon

Death Salon was created by The Order of the Good Death, a group of funeral industry professionals, artists and academics founded by Caitlin Doughty, a mortician and writer in L.A. Tired of communicating only online, the group’s members organize public events “in the spirit of the eighteenth-century salon – informal coffeehouse gatherings of intellectuals.” Annual multi-day Death Salons have been held in Los Angeles and London, and will visit New York in 2015. Keep your eye out for smaller one-day events in cities worldwide. And in the meantime, check out Death Salon’s well-curated Reading List.

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