“Death exists, get on board!” Bereaved attendees’ experiences of the Death Café and associated meaning-making
: An interpretative phenomenological analysis

  • Tammy Fabian

Student thesis: PsychD


Background. Founded in the UK in 2011, the now global Death Café (DC) phenomenon was established to meet a perceived need for safe, communal spaces for the general population to discuss death, dying and bereavement (DDB). Volunteer-run, the DC takes the form of a monthly two-hour meeting (with some variation) between attendees (predominantly strangers), seeking to engage in a moderately facilitated DDB discussion. Rationale. Contemporary directions in the vast DDB research field acknowledge variability and the importance of meaning- making processes across bereavement experiences. There is a need to explore how a relatively new, under-investigated group context such as the DC is experienced by attendees on a non-pathological bereavement trajectory (an under-researched group).
Aims & Methods. Seeking to address this research void, the current study recruited seven bereaved DC attendees to participate in one-to-one semi- structured interviews exploring their DC experiences. Focus was given to what led to attendance, the experience of communal death-talk, critical perspectives on DDB, resultant interpersonal and intrapersonal processes engaged in, and what (if any) role was played by DC encounters in these reflections. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was the applied methodology for interview transcript analysis.
Results. IPA distilled three interconnected superordinate themes: ‘Part of a Larger Whole…’; ‘A Liberating Space’; and ‘A Desire for Mastery…’. Reflecting a complex and nuanced image, these themes described senses of connection and/or disconnection within the DC, feelings of liberation and/or related vulnerability, and how the DC threaded through DDB-related meaning-making processes such as by scaffolding hopeful self-narratives of death-competence and resilience. Implications. Research implications are considered, including the incorporation of a broad meaning-making perspective into broader practice, and the reinforcement of bereavement care overall by linking to DC spaces already ‘naturally’ occurring in the community. Future research directions are also discussed.
Date of Award31 May 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorEdith Steffen (Director of Studies), Orla Parslow-Breen (Co-Supervisor) & Monique Proudlove (Co-Supervisor)


  • Death Café
  • taboo
  • meaning-making
  • death
  • bereavement
  • grief
  • loss

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