The founder of Death Cafe, Jon Underwood, died suddenly on Tuesday 27 June from an undiagnosed Acute Promyelocytic Leukaemia. He was 44. His ground-breaking work contributed enormously to breaking the taboo around talking about death and dying.
With great sadness we bring news of the sudden death of the founder of Death Cafe, Jon Underwood. His ground-breaking initiative moved the discussion of death and dying into the foreground in our society, and contributed greatly to breaking the taboo around the subject.
Stephanie MacGillivray, who has been part of the Art of Dying Well project from the start, met Jon Underwood: ‘I met Jon at a Death Cafe during the Dying Matters Awareness Week 2016. Before he even started talking, his passion was evident. He was so generous with his time both in person and written communication, and very patiently replied to my (many) emails in great detail and with enthusiasm. He will be greatly missed, but his legacy in the death-positive world will last forever.’
At a Death Cafe people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death. The objective of Death Cafe is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.’ Death Cafes encourage interesting, unstructured conversation – open and free-flowing with no specific agenda.
Jon started Death Cafe from his home in Hackney in September 2011. He was influenced by the ideas of Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz, who hosted Cafe Mortel events in France and Switzerland.
Since the first Death Cafe in 2011, almost 5,000 Death Cafes have been held in over 50 countries in diverse locations including festivals, local cafes, front rooms, farms, schools and universities, and hospices. Death Café has received unprecedented global press coverage including the front page of the New York Times.
Jon was born in Chester in 1972 was educated at Queens Park High School and Corpus Christi College, Oxford where he studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics. He met his wife, Donna Molloy, at university and they have been together ever since.
Jon was always searching for spiritual meaning. At university he began to look at Buddhism and went on to study at the Jamyang Buddhist Centre in London. He remained close to his spiritual teacher Geshe Tashi throughout his life.
In 2000, Jon began working at the Jamyang Centre as manager. He worked on many projects combatting social exclusion and winning a Beacon Award for a programme for ex-offenders.
Jon also painstakingly built and managed Funeral Advisor in association with the Natural Death Centre Charity and ran Impermanence an umbrella company – his commitment to doing good in the world by encouraging society to deal with death in interesting and innovative ways.
Jon lived in Hackney with his wife Donna Molloy and his two young children, Frank (10) and Gina (6).
His wife Donna Molloy has said: “Jon was uniquely and unusually aware that life is short and appreciated his life fully, reflecting on this through daily practice. 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 hundreds of people as all over the world to regularly come together, drink tea and eat delicious cake whilst taking time out to remember what really matters. He has single-handedly changed cultures around death and end of life awareness, not just in the UK, but across the globe.”
His mother Sue Barsky Reid and his sister Jools Barsky will continue his work on the Death Cafe movement, as Jon requested.