While it may seem like the last topic you’d want to bring up over a nice meal, dinner parties thrown specifically to talk about death are a growing phenomenon. These so-called “death dinners” allow people to discuss and ultimately plan for the inevitable in a way that can be positive, life-affirming, and even a little bit fun.
Rather than avoid talking about a difficult subject, a death dinner can give you the space you need to consider some tough questions with friends and loved ones. Here’s why you might want to consider hosting such a dinner, and how you can make sure you and your guests get the most out of your evening.
Why would you want to host a death dinner?
Family dinner conversations about the end of life might sound uncomfortable — or perhaps a total drag — but holding such a dinner may make a difficult topic easier to grapple with.
According to Michael Hebb, founder of the Death Over Dinner movement, “The dinner table is the most forgiving place for difficult conversations.” Sharing food fosters a connection among diners, which can empower everyone involved to open up about their fears, hopes, and ideas.
It can also help you and your guests understand some of the issues that you’ll face as you come to the end of your life or a loved one’s life. We don’t know what we don’t know, especially about a topic as hard to discuss as death. Having an opportunity to discuss these issues openly can help illuminate the gaps in your understanding of end-of-life planning, while simultaneously helping you to feel close to your fellow dinner companions.
How can you introduce such an awkward conversation?
There are a number of ways you can plan these events to help ensure a lively and meaningful discussion. First, you may want to prepare some icebreaker questions.
Some common conversation starters for such a dinner include:
- If you had a funeral, would you want it to be fun or more traditional?
- What do you want to do with all your belongings?
- Do you have a will?
- Would you rather write your own obituary or entrust it with someone else? Who would that be?
- Would you want any other funeral events, such as a wake or luncheon?
In addition, the Death Over Dinner program also provides hosts with reading material, a video, and a podcast to share with your dinner guests ahead of the meal. These materials can form the basis of your conversation over dinner, and give you an opportunity to talk about what decisions you will need to make.
You can choose ahead of time which end-of-life topic you’re most interested in discussing at your dinner party and choose the materials that fit best. That means you can steer your dinner party toward topics such as the environmental impact of various burial and cremation options, how to plan ahead for the financial impact of your death, or philosophical questions about end-of-life.
Talking about death can help you plan ahead
A death dinner can not only help demystify an important part of our lives, but you can use it as an opportunity to discuss which documents and policies help people prepare for the end of life. According to the National Institute on Aging, here are a few that may be worth highlighting at your death dinner.
An In Case of Emergency document
This is a rundown of all the personal information your family or executor would need after your death. This includes things like Social Security numbers, the location of your will and other legal documents, logins to online accounts, personal contacts, and the names and contact information for any professionals who have helped create your estate plan (such as your lawyer, insurance agent, accountant, etc).
Financial documents and asset information
When someone passes away, there are typically three questions that follow:
- Where is their money?
- What did they have of value?
- What debt will need to be addressed?
Some debt can be forgiven when someone dies, and knowing the financial history of the deceased may help ensure everything is covered. (See also: 11 Essential Documents You Should Keep in Your Safe)
Wills and trusts
These documents often go much deeper than just who inherits your belongings. Consider discussing the difference between wills and trusts, and the process in which these wishes become legally binding.
Talking about how to create and organize these kinds of documents can help insure you and your guests are prepared in case of a sudden death. Adding the stress of trying to handle post-death financial chores without these documents on top of bereavement is a burden that you and your guests can help avoid by having a frank conversation about their importance. (See also: Don’t Make These 5 Common Mistakes When Writing a Will)
Enjoying your death dinner
Most people don’t relish even thinking about death, but hosting a dinner can be a good opportunity to talk openly about the topic in a supportive setting. Having such a conversation over dinner also removes some of the stigma and pain of discussing death. That makes it more likely that you can have a meaningful and life-affirming conversation about death with people you care about.
Though it may feel odd to plan such a dinner party, having a death dinner can inspire you and other dinner guests to start making appropriate arrangements while you still have time to think them through. And that is an incredible gift to your loved ones.
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