“Would you like wine with that?”
What’s the recipe for a good dinner party? Well, in my family it’s one serving of good spicy Italian food, two-plus glasses of wine, a sprinkle of giggles, a side of random drama, a second helping of storytelling, and hugs slathered with kisses for dessert. Give or take a spilling of the beans, it’s bound to be a good time.
For many of us, food is love and when it’s a gathering, laughter is always the guest of honor. But others get invited, too. Death shows up pretty often. Let’s face it: He’s often there as the “Plus One” guest. At many events, we find ourselves talking about who died, who’s sick or dying, who almost died … and then there are the slightly under-the-table, grateful-it-wasn’t-me stories.
Here’s a game changer: What if you intentionally invited death to the dinner party? Not via mystery theater, or a full-blown murder, but as a conversation.
Death, as it turns out, is a busy guy, so I get to come in his place all the time. I’ve led “Death for Dinner” events for women’s circles, men’s golf groups, gardening clubs, book clubs, friends, and family members. The group plans a dinner party and invites me to come to facilitate a conversation about death and dying during the meal.
We chat and compare stories about what each person would want for their funeral arrangements. People dream up the kind of fantasy funeral they could create for themselves as we explore options. Maybe we’ll cover fears or concerns about extended hospital stays. We talk about advanced directives, living wills, medical interventions, and procedures.
Ideally, everyone leaves with a written medical advanced directive at the end of the evening. In some cases, we create written death plans that cover all the detail that bring your unique personality into your dying and death. These can cover where you want to do your dying and how you want to die (including options of voluntarily stopping eating or drinking and death with dignity). We can sort through all the options of what to wear at the funeral. Do you want a casket, shroud, or a wicker basket to be buried in? There are more choices than you can imagine. An expert can help everyone navigate the choices and guide the conversation and questions.
The best part of having a “Dinner with Death” is how it can be an informal, casual evening with folks with whom you already have a relationship. It makes the topic more approachable when there’s food, wine, and laughter. (Laughter definitely helps this dish go down.) Expect a smorgasbord heaped with feelings, laughter, assumptions, guesses, and even a few tears—all the ingredients for a memorable, meaningful dinner party.
Ashley T. Benem is the founder of the non-profit A Sacred Passing: Death Midwifery Service and the creator of the Art of Death Conference. She is an advocate for palliative and end-of-life care issues, empowering and supporting families to reclaim their right to die in congruence with their lives. Contact Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org.