It’s Monday morning. You know the drill: co-workers straggle into the office, shuffle to the coffee maker, and ask one another about the weekend past. By rote, most answer, “My weekend was good. A little yardwork, the usual. Yours?”
This Monday morning, my response was different. For about three hours on Saturday night, I ate a scrumptious meal with strangers and talked about death. Death is inevitable. You, I, and everyone we know will die. Apparently, 75% percent of Americans say they want to die at home, but only 25% get their wish.
This was one of several topics we discussed over dinner on August 24 as part of the first global “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death” (Death over Dinner for short) event. Seven people gathered in Volunteer Park in Seattle. Some of us were already acquainted, but no one knew everyone. Our host, Cynthia Andrews, set the stage while we set the (picnic) table. She asked each of us to raise a glass to someone we lost who’d had a powerful influence in our lives.
For me, that person was Tarrie Kay. She was beautiful, brilliant, funny, athletic, popular, stylish, and adored by her painfully shy, scrawny, and bookish little sister. She influenced me in ways I’m still discovering. Death over Dinner gave me a forum to talk about her without any social awkwardness. (Want to make someone squirm? Ask, “Hey, do you have a minute to hear about my dead sister?”)
For such a taboo and emotionally charged subject, I found death, even my own death, surprisingly easy to talk about in this setting.
In his TEDMED talk, “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk about Death” founder Michael Hebb describes how breaking bread together creates deep engagement and profound relationships. That sounds like a tall order, but nothing combats the infamous Seattle Chill like a guided discussion about when you first experienced death and how you would prefer to die.
By candlelight, we closed the evening by considering how we could transform our vibrant conversation into meaningful action. Would we set up living wills or advance directives? Pre-plan our funerals, cremations, or sky burials? Or could we even affect legislation about assisted suicide, particularly the waiting periods that can cause additional suffering for both the dying and their loved ones?
Following the example set by my recently departed uncle Don, I’m looking into the Willed Body program at the University of Washington. I’m also pondering whether to host a Death over Dinner of my own.
Learn more. Your death depends on it.
– Twitter: @deathoverdinner
– Web: www.deathoverdinner.org
– Tumblr: http://deathoverdinner.tumblr.com/