Re:Imagine End of Life

Re:Imagine End of Life, Opening Night, Grace Cathedral

The growing public interest in death led to last year’s Re:Imagine End of Life, a week-long festival in the Bay Area sponsored by the local design firm IDEO.4 In 2013, redesigning death became one of IDEO’s priority areas—how to promote conversations about living and dying through art and design.

Shoshana Berger, IDEO Editorial Director

“We thought, ‘Could we tap into the local conversations and the local activity that’s already happening around this topic?’ ” said Shoshana Berger, IDEO’s editorial director, “Death over dinners, death cafés, death podcasts—all of that was already happening. So IDEO acted as something of a convener—gathering everyone together for one week to have a local, civic conversation about death.”

The Re:Imagine festival hosted panel discussions, music, poetry, storytelling, and art installations. Berger said over 2,000 people attended the event. “We were shocked by the numbers,” she said, “It was sold-out crowds and standing room only throughout the week. I was really astonished by how eager people were to come and talk about death.”

The local death café movement has led to a series of lectures and movies at the San Francisco Public Library called “We’re Terminal: Living with Death and Dying.” Van Buskirk curates this series and says greater numbers of people are coming to the realization that overcoming their fears of death can help them live more fully in the present.

Re:Imagine End of Life panel discussion

“What the death café does is remind everybody we may not have tomorrow,” said Van Buskirk, “So if you’re going to do something, do it today. If you want to tell somebody ’I love you’ or resolve a conflict, now is the time.”

Public conversations and festivals around death would have been unimaginable twenty years ago. Plans are underway for a second Re:Imagine festival this fall. The hosts and organizers of death cafés and death over dinners believe they have now paved the way for thousands of open, honest conversations about the end of life.

“Death Goes Public” is part of The End of Life Radio Project, a series of reports on care at the end of life. For the entire series, go to

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