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August 22, 2013 at 9:34 AM

Let’s have dinner and talk about death

Michael Hebb (r) file photo by Melissa Alllison

Michael Hebb file photo by Melissa Alllison

Ready for some serious dinnertime conversation?

Across the country on Saturday, hundreds of people are expected to engage in “Death Over Dinner” meals to discuss thoughts, experiences, expectations and fears about mortality and the end of life. The organizers’ hope: To transform “this seemingly difficult conversation into one of deep engagement, insight and empowerment.”

The project comes from a familiar name in innovation, “food provocateur” Michael Hebb, known for projects from his One Pot gatherings to a highway hiking dinner, now a teaching fellow at UW’s Master of Communication in Communication Leadership program.

The idea came about, Hebb wrote in a successful crowdsourcing campaign, when he started a conversation with two strangers, both medical doctors, in the dining car of a train.

“I learned that End of Life expense was the number 1 reason for bankruptcy in the U.S. and that over 75% of Americans want to die at home and yet only 25% do – half of us are not getting what we want – what we are entitled to – and paying dearly for it,” he wrote.

“I was shocked – but outrage quickly turned to inspiration – and it occurred to me that How We End Our Lives is the most important and costly conversation America isn’t having.”

Saturday’s Death dinners, which sprung from a graduate class Hebb and the UW’s Scott Macklin taught on end-of-life issues last year, now “includes big names like the health care conference TedMED; spiritual teacher Ram Dass; and Marcus Osborne, the vice president of health and wellness payer relations for Walmart, either participating in or supporting the initiative,” plus a partnership with the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation, reported the Huffington Post.

Hebb told the Post that people typically talk about death in “all of these awful places that are not designed for a conversation that requires a great deal of humanity and often humor, reverence. But, historically, it’s over food where ideas have come alive.”

Interested in organizing your own dinner or joining one? Here’s the website and a Twitter feed. The website promises a step-by-step guide for signing up over here, and offers advice on starting the conversation, such as envisioning what you would like your own final days to look like.

One student from the UW class, Caity Rock, described its final meal as a feast including “an escarole, persimmon and almond salad with fabulous feta cheese crumbles; taro, turnips, romanesco and onions; a vegetarian tamale with cherry tomatoes and oregano and a chicken sausage and chipotle tamale both covered with a complementing pumpkin seed mole.” The conversation was even more complex, about fears of pain and suffering, vulnerability, weakness, and how “Death should be seen as a verb, it’s something that you do, just like living is what we all do too.”

As one commenter said, it begs the question, what’s for dessert?

Comments | Topics: Death over Dinner, Michael Hebb, Rebekah Denn


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