Coffee, Cake, and Conversation About Death: Welcome to Death Café
monthly event in downtown E.C. chats death in a casual space
Coffee, cake, and conversation about death. Who would’ve thought those three things could pair so well together? Death Café is a monthly meet-up event at Racy D’Lenes Coffee Lounge in downtown Eau Claire where people can get together to snack on baked goods, sip coffee or tea, and feel free to share what’s on their mind related to death.
Death Café events occur worldwide, first starting around 2011 in the United Kington from creator John Underwood. Chippewa Valley local Allison Fine has been running the local Death Café events since the fall of 2021. The first event was a spontaneous meet-up at her home, and since then at Racy’s.
“The whole premise behind it is, there’s no pushing of agendas or ideas or anything, it’s just casual conversation,” Allison explained. “It’s always a meeting where people eat cake, drink tea and coffee or wine, and just come together in a café setting to talk about death and see where the conversation goes.”
Vegas rules: what's said (at Death Café), stays there.
–Allison Fine, local host of Death Café
Hosted at Racy’s once a month from 5:30-7:30pm, dates announced online and shared on Racy’s Facebook page, the next Death Café will be on Wednesday, March 15. Allison brings a homemade cake – a fun sort of challenge for herself, always making a different flavor, and earning her title of “Cake Lady” by Racy’s regulars – and folks show up at the start or trickle in throughout for conversation and cake.
“There’s no real set structure and it kind of depends on who shows up,” Allison explained. “What I’ve noticed from hosting them for so long is, very rarely will things start out quiet or need me to ask a starting question; I always ask everyone to say their name and what brought them to the event, and that’s usually a good ice breaker and conversation will go off of what someone says.”
She also brings conversation cards, called a Death Deck, that come with different questions and topics surrounding the topic of death, or as Allison said, “All that stuff that no one wants to talk about, usually.”
Plus, Death Café adheres to “Vegas rules,” Allison joked: “I never take pictures of who comes to Death Café because I want it to be a safe space. Vegas rules: What’s said there, stays there.”
Death can feel like a taboo subject, but events and conversations like those at Death Café provide an open space offering ease and a social aspect. “It’s turned into this very nice thing where people can connect,” Allison said. “I’ve been hosting them in Eau Claire for over a year and I don’t think I’ve had the same set of people at any.”
She also shares books for adults and kid-friendly ones that discuss death and grief – though Death Café is not a grief group – and gives attendees note paper and writing utensils in case they want to take their own notes on the conversation.
Allison has been a licensed massage therapist since 2011 and lived for years in New Jersey where she also started her business, Aerial Flight Club, and often held other jobs on the side of her massage work thanks to various certifications in various fitness courses and passion for connecting with people. When the spring of 2020 rolled around, though, she suffered what many across the world did: a total career halt due to COVID-19, and depression.
“Through (Aerial Flight Club) I was hosting fundraisers like breast cancer bingo and different workshops like paddleboard yoga, and it was all kinds of different stuff, but all for the community,” Allison explained. “I ended up closing my studio, everything I did came to a halt, and I was super depressed.”
She recalled traveling to South Carolina that spring with her now husband to step into caregiver roles for his grandparents, and soon after, she received a call that her uncle had contracted COVID. Five days later, he passed away.
“At the end of that day I kind of broke down and was like, ‘There’s death literally everywhere; no one was prepared for it,’ ” she said.
Allison spent a lot of time after that and during the height of the pandemic researching more about it and death, and that’s when she learned what death doulas were. She took a certification course through the University of Vermont for end-of-life doulas, learning about resources and lessons in compassion. She also came across Death Café and participated in several herself, even those hosted out of Australia and England thanks to virtual resources, and came to really appreciate them.
After moving to Eau Claire in 2021 with her husband (both of them work at UW-Eau Claire), Allison also brought Death Cafés to town. While folks can look forward to attending the free meet-ups at Racy’s each month, those interested in more community events hosted by Allison or her masseuse and related work can head to her website, Kaleidoscope Soul.
Visit the official Death Café website to learn more and keep up with Racy D’Lenes on Facebook to see their posts sharing deets on the next local Death Café.