Death cafe's Jon Underwood has died
Jon Underwood, the founder of Death Café, did not pass away. He died suddenly last week from acute promyeloctic leukaemia. He was 44.
It’s an important distinction that Jon would have wanted us all to make; his work with Death Café helped reclaim the words ‘death’ and ‘dying’ and placed importance on us all being unafraid of using them and not speaking in euphemisms.
Jon passionately believed that in order to fully embrace life and living, one must also embrace death and dying. He brought tens of thousands of people together who, over tea and cake, began to talk openly and honestly about one of the toughest subjects.
He, quite literally, changed the face of the worldwide Death Positive Movement. To date, there have been nearly 5000 Death Café’s in 50 different countries. The impact of his work cannot be overstated. Death is often quoted as being the last taboo and Jon took it back from the brink of hushed conversations behind closed doors and gave it the platform it deserved.
Louise and I are devastated by his untimely death and are honoured that we were able to call him a friend and colleague. Jon was undoubtedly one of the good guys. He was kind, gentle and genuine while being hugely knowledgeable and an endless source of encouragement and support.
When we were at Sutton House to begin the install of Life. Death. Whatever., Jon arrived, a tray laden with tea and biscuits in hand, and just got on with helping us. During the month we were there, Jon was always on hand to help in anyway and when it was time to dismantle the show, he wrapped, packed, boxed and carried and wouldn’t leave until it was all done.
Along with hosting a Death Cafe, he gave a talk on Death Activism for us and afterwards we tried to find him to thank him and to chat about the excellent feedback we’d been receiving from the audience but he’d disappeared. After quite some time he returned and it transpired he had been escorting people through the graveyard and making sure they reached Hackney Central Station safely.
Jon was a true gentleman and incredibly humble. He sometimes seemed slightly reluctant to be in the spotlight but that only cemented our understanding of his true humility: he didn’t set up Death Cafe for himself, he did it for society and for the greater good.
Jon celebrated his final birthday – his 44th – with us at Life. Death. Whatever. on October 28th 2016. We sang happy birthday to him, gave him cake and gifted him with one of the infamous Life. Death. Whatever. tea towels.
Jon was a devoted husband and father and he positively shone whilst talking about his wife Donna and his lovely children, Frank and Gina. He lived just around the corner from Sutton House, the home of Life. Death. Whatever.
Thank you, Jon, for single-handedly redesigning the dialogue surrounding death and dying. And thank you for being a warm and generous friend and colleague. Your loss and your legacy are immeasurable.
So long Jon, and thanks for all the cake.
With so much love,
Anna and Louise
Jon’s commitment to Death Cafe was unrivalled, and came at a cost. Since 2011, Jon funded his Death Cafe work entirely through his own personal savings and small freelance projects and had recently begun trying to fundraise very actively so he could pay his bills.
We’d love to support Jon’s young children – Frank and Gina – and have set up a JustGiving page in his memory. If you feel as strongly as we do about supporting Jon's family at this awful time, please give generously.