Elizabeth Wagele

The Career Within You

Death Cafés—Talk About an Important Subject

These forums lift death, dying, and grief out of the dark ages.

Posted Jun 18, 2013

Drawing by E. Wagele from “The Enneagram of Death"

Death as a topic for discussion has appeared on the front pages of The Los Angeles Times, “Passing thoughts at L.A.'s first Death Café,”and The New York Times recently. Both articles were on the international Death Café movement, where people get together to exchange their various ideas about death. Many of the participants feel more comfortable talking about death after attending the meetings. Not only that, but when they talk about it, death seems less frightening. With less fear of death, people can hopefully focus on living their lives more fully.

Paula Span’s article in the NY Times of 6-17-13 is called, “Death Be Not Decaffeinated: At Death Café, Groups Face Taboo.” She writes the movement started in Switzerland and France about 10 years ago as casual forums for people who want to bat around philosophical thoughts. Now they take place in about 40 U.S. cities.

The leaders of these groups are volunteers and often have a professional interest in death, such as being grief counselors. The questions asked in one of the groups included: “What is your biggest fear about death? What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want to do before you die?”

As far as psychological types goes, there are some who are more naturally inclined to wonder about death at an early age than others. In the MBTI, iNtuitive Feelers (NF’s) are the most likely to think about such things as life and death and where did we come from. These are INFPs (Introverted iNtuitive Feeling and Perceiving) and INFJs (Introverted intuitive Feeling and Judging), and their extroverted counterparts, ENFPs and ENFJs. Sensates types are less likely to have such abstract thoughts.

In the Enneagram system, the 4-Romantic is the most likely to think about death and to be attracted to life and death situations. One young Romantic I knew wanted to have a career working with bodies in a funeral home.

Much can be learned about how other cultures approach death—more naturally. Death is almost a secret in the U.S. It’s hard to accept the idea of staying young forever at the same time as acknowledging we’ll die, so many of us opt for ignoring the subject: “What’s death? I’ll never age. I’ll live forever.”

The Café Death groups open up a formerly taboo subject. It can be fun, too, dancing around with the subject of death. Thinking about death is also practical. How to face it? How to face a loved one’s death? What kind of death do we want? What do we think about suicide or helping someone else die? How can we prepare for what’s ahead?


Dancing the tango.

The getting acquainted tango


In the Los Angeles Times article, an LAPD sergeant in the group sees death all the time. “How was he trained to deal with it? He wasn't, he replies, unless you count learning ‘to fill out information in boxes’ on a death report. And then he starts talking—about death that comes violently, about wishing he knew how to help the ones left behind, how to console without internalizing the pain so much ‘that I start turning into a glob of goo.’” How can he deal with some of the images of death in his head as a result of some of his experiences as a policeman? The answer: he’s dealing with them by talking about them.


Visit wagele.com for Famous Enneagram Types and to check out my books (including “The Enneagram of Death”) , CD, cartoons, and essays.


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