Life Matters Media celebrated its first anniversary with a ‘Death over Dinner’ event this week at the Italian Village in Chicago’s Loop. More than 50 gathered to share their end of life wishes over wine, pasta and birthday cake.
“Our conversation is not meant to be a morbid one, but instead a very human discussion in which we consider what we truly want both in life and its closure,” said LMM President and Co-Founder Randi Belisomo. “We take on how we, individually, want to die: the most important and costly conversation America isn’t having.”
In an effort to help encourage more open discussion about death and dying, the “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death” campaign has helped thousands of Americans share their end of life wishes with friends, family members and even strangers. Michael Hebb, a restaurateur and end of life care activist, founded “Death over Dinner” in 2013 to launch a “patient-led revolution at the dinner table.” LMM hosted Chicago’s first-ever “Death over Dinner” in January.
Belisomo began the evening by inviting each guest to offer a toast to a deceased loved one they admired. Belisomo raised a wine glass to her grandmother, Elizabeth, who died in 2012 at the age of 97. “Unlike most Americans, my grandmother was healthy and went to bed in her own home and never woke up. I wish you all as peaceful a death as hers,” she said.
Throughout the four-course Italian dinner served family style, guests offered their stories of deceased loved ones or seriously ill relatives; others shared their fears and concerns about the costs of aggressive end of life care.
As the evening continued, Belisomo provided prompts between courses to help assist conversations at the tables set for six. Among them were the questions: “How would you like your life to end?” “What would you do if you were told you wouldn’t survive the month?” “How can you help support loved ones at their death?”
Jamie Cummings, a 23-year-old certified nursing assistant from Kenosha, Wis., attended his first “Death over Dinner.” “It was very thought provoking, and I would absolutely attend another one. End of life is a conversation that isn’t often discussed among young people,” he said. “One day, I may have these conversations with a patient.”
Craig Klugman, chair of DePaul University’s Department of Health Sciences, called the night “courageous.” “This is something very hard for some people to talk about, but here people shared their innermost thoughts,” he said. “I would absolutely attend another. It’s not a one-time conversation.”
Since launching in June 2013, the Life Matters Media website has garnered more than 110,000 views. Their reporting has been highlighted by dozens of news organizations, including Forbes and The Chicago Tribune.