With optimism and gusto, The Washington Home & Community Hospices hosted our first "Death over Dinner" discussion in our NW DC Garden Room on the evening of February 16, 2017. Guests from all walks of life—those who grieved the loss of a loved one and those working on end-of-life care legislation—gathered to discuss death over a scrumptious dinner of homemade soups, baguettes and desserts.
As Bereavement Coordinator and co-organizer for the event, I sent out homework a day before the dinner to help stimulate conversation. I asked the group to listen to a few short pieces including the story of Candy Chang, founder of the "Before I die…" wall, as well as a story from Ira Glass’s podcast "This American Life." The next day, guests—all strangers to each other—were seated in small groups around tables with discussion prompts like "How do I envision my death?" and "Who do I want to speak at my funeral?"
Dinner began and conversation quickly followed; the bowls of soup and plates of cake were soon scraped clean. With the ease of camaraderie and the willingness of all to openly discuss death, a taboo was shattered; the group expressed their gratitude for a nonjudgemental opportunity to discuss end-of-life issues.
Since 2013, there have been more than 100,000 "Death over Dinner" events in 30 countries.
According to "Death over Dinner" founder, Michael Hebb, one of the primary goals of this movement is to open the discussion of death in an intimate and attractive environment to bring our thoughts and feelings out into the open. As Hebb stated in a recent article in The Atlantic, "For us, the discussion of end-of-life is not just a medical or financial conversation, not just an emotional psychologically healthy conversation. It’s all those things and in many ways it’s what gives our lives meaning - the fact that we are mortal."
As the night came to an end, co-organizer and Director of Psycho-Social Services Phil Carpenter invited the group to share their expectations, experiences, and their feedback on the evening. Many reported they were surprised at how fascinating it was to hear the different choices people planned to make when it comes to their own deaths/funeral services; they found it helpful, and they look forward to additional programs like a salon series with expert speakers.
The Washington Home & Community Hospices is proud to be a part of this conversation, and we’re looking forward to many more much needed discussions.
Hope to see you at the next one!