Student hosts on-campus Death Café

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By Ty-Eshia Johnson 

Mortuary science major Dana Fox hosted the first Death Café in the city Feb. 12, and she plans the second this evening.

Fox’s mother, a fellow student and professor, were among seven people who attended the forum because they were the first to express an interest in Death Café.

The group, which meets in Room 231 of Nail Technical Center, has scheduled the next session at 6 p.m. today. Death Café runs for two hours.

Death Café is not a counseling session or grief support group. Forums have been established around the world. In Texas, groups operate in Austin and Houston.

“There’s not a specific subject,” Fox said. There is no limit to the number of topics discussed. Discussion topics range from miscarriages to spiritual encounters, but there are no off-limit topics.

“It’s an informal sitting, talking about death,” Fox said.

Inspired by the works of Bernard Crettaz, a Swiss sociologist and anthropologist who set up Cafes Mortels and hosted gatherings to discuss death, Jon Underwood founded Death Café in November 2010.

In 2012, Underwood started a nonprofit social enterprise called Impermanence. The Death Café is a nonprofit social franchise, one of three projects Underwood operates under Impermanence to increase the awareness of death and provide free funeral advising and other related services.

With the help of his mother, Underwood hosted the first Death Café at his home in Hackney, London, in September 2011, and continued meeting in various locations, including cemeteries.

Those still coping with the loss of a loved one are encouraged to seek help before joining the Café. Fox wants people to be prepared for the discussion.

Mortuary science Professor Mary Allen-Martin said only women attended the first meeting. They spoke about miscarriage, and several who were once pregnant discussed how uncomfortable it was for them. Allen-Martin’s first pregnancy several years ago ended in a miscarriage.

“People are uncomfortable talking about death and loss,” she said.

When asked about the difficulty speaking on the subject of miscarriage. Martin said it was easy discussing the subject because the women who had the same experience understood each other’s feelings.

“We were not emotional talking about it,” Allen-Martin said. She plans to attend the next meeting.

Mortuary science Chair Felix Gonzales said, “It makes me uncomfortable when others are uncomfortable about death.”

Gonzales remembered a cashier in an airport who asked about Gonzales’ tie clip featuring a shovel. Gonzales said he was an undertaker. Then the cashier hesitated to take his money.

Gonzales said whenever he mentions his job, people make jokes. “I have something that everyone is going to need,” he said.

A friend told him he is in the perfect business.

Fox said she hopes Death Café will be successful enough to branch throughout the city, but worries that the forum will grow too quickly from the limit of 30 she envisions.

More people means a bigger meeting space. Also, she is providing refreshments so other participants would have to pitch in.

Fox said anyone can start their own Death Café by contacting Underwood and agreeing to the guidelines.

Underwood and his mother published the Death Café Guide in February 2012 on how to start and run a Death Café.

The first Death Café person to pick up the guide was Lizzy Miles of Columbus, Ohio. Miles and her grad school classmate Maria Johnson hosted the first Death Café in the U.S.

Participants should send an email to Fox at to reserve a spot. Guests are welcome but should also register.

For more information, call 210-369-8853 or visit


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