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Death Cafe founder Jon Underwood, who lived in Hackney, dies aged 44

PUBLISHED: 17:02 29 June 2017 | UPDATED: 17:03 29 June 2017

Jon Underwood. Picture: Death Cafe

Jon Underwood. Picture: Death Cafe

Archant

The founder of Death Cafe, which allows strangers to gather to eat cake, drink tea and talk openly about their mortality, has died.

Jon Underwood, 44, died suddenly from an undiagnosed blood cancer, acute promyelocytic leukaemia, on Tuesday.

Influenced by the work of Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz, Jon started Death Cafe from his home in Hackney in September 2011, with the help of his mum Sue Barsky Reid, a psychotherapist.

She and Jon’s sister Jools Barsky will continue working on the Death Café movement, as he requested.

He leaves behind two children and wife Donna.

Donna 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 focused completely on being present in, and making the most of, every minute.”

She added: “He has single-handedly changed cultures around death and end of life awareness, not just in the UK, but across the globe.”

There are now 4,806 Death Cafes in 51 countries, with nearly 950 in the UK.

They spread outside the country in 2012 when a guide book was picked up by Lizzy Miles in Columbus, Ohio.

The objective of Death Cafe is not bereavement support or grief counselling, but “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their finite lives.”

The guide suggests that all facilitators should “be able to listen to and discuss all aspects of death and dying” while being calm and composed.

They should also “have good group facilitation skills and be able to handle any issues or problematic situations which may arise”.

And they must have “enthusiasm for discussing death, empathy, clear boundaries, flexibility and a friendly manner”.

Jon also set up several other projects surrounding death such as Funeral Advisor, which he described on his website as a “Trip Advisor for the funeral industry”.

The next Death Café meeting near Hackney will be held at Blighty Coffee in Blackstock Road, Finsbury Park, on July 18.

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