Death Café Encourages Open Conversation

After Carolyn Knox lost her 38-year-old son to brain cancer, the grief of losing a child consumed her. She couldn’t stop questioning: Why did this happen? Where did he go? As time passed, Knox recognized that her thoughts on death weren’t going anywhere, and she needed to find a way to address them.

“All of the sudden, I realized the questions and the feelings I was having are really valid,” says Knox, who works as a research associate at UO. “There’s something about mortality that’s an essential part of being human. If we were machines and we had no sense of ever having to go away, it would be entirely different. It makes us human in a way that’s so essential that we don’t really think about it.”

Knox eventually found Death Café, an international movement that seeks to lessen the taboo on death and get people talking about it without apprehension. Started in Europe, Death Café provides a forum in which people can discuss death-related issues, tackle questions and dig deeper into the unknown, with the added benefit of tea and cake. It’s not group therapy, a religious occasion or a counseling session — just a chance to chat about death with a group of open-minded individuals.

Before becoming involved in Death Café, Knox set up a table at the 2012 Eugene Celebration with a banner that said, “Normalize the conversation on death and grief.” She was swamped with people interested in talking about death.

“I have been through hospice training, and I know that when you have a death in your family, it’s very awkward to talk about death open and honestly,” Knox says. “And yet death is everywhere, and we don’t talk about it in a normal kind of way.”

Knox and five others in her group created a Death Café for the Eugene-Springfield area, and the first meeting is scheduled for Sept. 24. “There’s a need in our community for this conversation,” Knox says. “Everybody needs to be able to normally talk about death, whatever their questions and beliefs are.”

Knox says this month’s meeting is completely booked, but she hopes to hold another in October. Those interested in attending the next event can register online at