Celebrating the Life of Death Cafe Founder Jon Underwood

Jun 28, 2017 | 1 comment

Jon Underwood

Jon Underwood, founder of the Death Cafe movement

Jon Underwood, founder of the Death Cafe movement which has grown to 51 countries worldwide, died suddenly from a brain hemorrhage caused by undiagnosed acute promyelocytic leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells. The news was reported today by his family on the Death Cafe website.

His wife Donna Molloy wrote, “As you all know the objective of Death Cafe is helping us all ‘make the most of our finite lives’. With shocking poignancy on Sunday 25th June we experienced the finiteness of life at its most brutal. And more specifically the finiteness of the life of Jon Underwood, founder of Death Cafe, dad to two truly amazing children and my husband. He was 44.”

“Comfort is very hard to find right now, but there is some in the fact that, through his work helping people come to terms with the idea of death, Jon was uniquely and unusually aware that life is short and appreciated his life fully, reflecting on this through daily practise…. He lived every day reflecting very consciously on the fact that none of us know how long we have and focussed completely on being present in, and making the most of every minute….”

“Through his life he helped tens of thousands of people all over the world to regularly come together, drink tea, eat delicious cake, and take time out to remember what really matters. I don’t think it’s an over statement to say he has single handedly started to change cultures around death and end of life awareness, not just in the UK, but across the globe.”

The objective of the Death Cafe is “To increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.”  It’s all about an interesting, unstructured conversation – open and free-flowing with no specific agenda.

Jon Underwood was influenced by the ideas of Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz, who started holding Cafe Mortel events in France and Switzerland. He held his first Death Cafe in the basement of his home in London in September 2011, facilitated by psychotherapist Sue Barsky Reid, Jon’s mother.

Sue Barsky Reid and Jon’s sister Jools Barsky plan to continue his Death Cafe work, as Jon requested. More than 4,800 Death Cafe events have been held worldwide since Jon Underwood’s first gathering. For information on how to hold a Death Cafe in your community, review the information at www.DeathCafe.com.

UPDATE: Follow-up news obituaries in The Washington Post and The New York Times indicate his date of death was June 27, 2017, as opposed to June 25, as his wife wrote in the blog post.

The first Death Cafe west of the Mississippi in the United States was held by death educator Gail Rubin in Albuquerque, New Mexico in September 2012. The next Albuquerque Death Cafe will be held on Saturday, July 15 from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. at Gail Rubin’s home. For more information and to RSVP, visit the ABQ Death Cafe webpage.

A Good Goodbye