Death is life’s sole certainty, yet open discussion of mortality remains taboo. We avoid voicing its name whenever possible. But a growing movement aims to change that. “Death salons” are creating spaces where people can explore death freely and creatively. This article examines the origins, aims, and impact of this movement, and the influencers helping catalyze change.

What is a Death Salon?

A death salon is an event where people gather to discuss death and dying without judgment. The first “Death Salon” was organized in 2013 by mortician Caitlin Doughty, who saw the need for more transparent and accurate education around death practices. As Doughty argues in her bestselling book “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” shielding the public from the realities of death has done more harm than good.  

Death salons are often organized by community groups, non-profits, and entrepreneurs seeking to raise death literacy and improve end-of-life choice. They feature presentations, workshops, and discussions on alternative death practices, spirituality, grief, death positivity, and legal issues surrounding death—aiming to help people overcome their death anxiety by addressing mortality creatively and supportively.

A Growing Movement

While small in scale, the death salon movement reflects a shifting tide in how we perceive death and dying. More people are seeking alternative and customizable end-of-life experiences, driving interest in death doulas, home funerals, green burials and Death Cafes. Scholars note “the good death movement” is impacting health policy and law.

As baby boomers age, conversations around mortality are also shaping businesses. Companies provide more death-related services and share “death-positive” messages, tapping into this market. Still, many avoid in-depth discussion due to lasting taboos, lack of death education, and fear of the unknown.  

Death salons counter this avoidance by creating community around open conversation. They inform and support those seeking to improve their death literacy and make empowered end-of-life choices. Although centered in the U.S., the movement has spread internationally. Its growth suggests more recognize that embracing mortality instead of denying it helps us live meaningfully and confront dying well. 

Making death less strange and lonely is a shared human aim that death salons serve through radical openness in discussing life’s sole certainty. By voicing its name, we shed light on the darkness of the unknown and find power facing our shared fate. Though death is natural, talking about it freely, we open to the wonder of life.

The Influencers Changing How We Die

Key figures driving this cultural shift include:

  1. Caitlin Doughty: Mortician, author and activist. She organized the first Death Salon and founded the death acceptance collective The Order of the Good Death. Her books “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “From Here to Eternity” have raised interest in natural death-care and death positivity.  
  2. Lizzy Miles: End-of-life doula, co-founder of Death Café and host of podcast “Adventures in Death and Dying.” She aims to make death and loss feel more natural through open conversation and education on death practices.
  3. Cressida Downing: Former funeral director and influencer “The Grief Geek.” She runs death education events across the UK, including Death Cafes and Death and Dying Discussions. She advocates rethinking taboos around mortality and improving bereavement support.  
  4. Cindy Wilber: Co-founder of end-of-life firm Grace Before Dying, focused on empowering people through doula services, legacy projects and advance care plans. She organized NYC’s first Death Cafe.  
  5. Death Doulas UK: A collective of over 100 death doulas providing holistic support for the dying and loved ones in the UK. They offer guidance through emotional, practical, social and spiritual aspects of death and help create individualized end-of-life experiences.  
  6. Ask a Mortician: Caitlin Doughty’s popular web series answering questions about death and dying. It aims to educate viewers on death care and empower them to make their own end-of-life decisions. The channel has over 2.5 million subscribers.
  7. Talk Death: TalkDeath’s mission is to encourage positive and constructive conversations around death and dying. Although our awareness of the issues and needs surrounding death is growing, it is still not considered appropriate “dinner table talk.” Well, we think it is. From green burials and home funerals, to history, memento mori art, funeral law, and grief resources, TalkDeath.com is the hub for a changing death-conscious public. TalkDeath also aims to bridge the gap between death professionals and the general public, helping you make informed end-of-life decisions.

These influencers and organizations are helping change how we perceive and interact with mortality through advocacy, events, media and services. They make discussions of death and dying more open, empowering and centered around human needs and values. While death may be inevitable, they show it need not be an experience we meet with darkness or distress. There are always choices to make meaning even as the light starts to fade.