Life Matters Media
Start the most difficult conversation American isn’t having- the conversation about our end of life preferences

Have You Had ‘The Talk,’ Yet?

BY DANIEL GAITAN | daniel@lifemattersmedia.org

Hundreds of Americans are expected to take part in a “Death over Dinner” this spring.

The campaign, led by restaurateur Michael Hebb, aims to encourage more open and honest discussion of death and dying at the dinner table.

Hebb wants to launch a “patient-led revolution at the dinner table.”

“My work is to bring people together, break bread and effect social change,” Hebb told a crowd gathered at the TEDMED conference in Washington, D.C. When Hebb was 12-years-old, his father died in a nursing home from complications associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

“We didn’t know how to talk about death and illness in my family, so denial was the route we chose,” he said. “We assume America is afraid of this conversation, but I believe that is a cultural myth.”

Hosting a dinner begins at DeathOverDinner.com. After answering several basic questions about the guests (are they parents, friends, co-workers or strangers?) and hopes for the dinner (to prepare for the end of life, for philosophical conversations), the host receives a personalized email with invitation language for the guests.

A version of this story appeared in the Zion-Benton News in Lake County, Ill.
A version of this story appeared in the Zion-Benton News in Lake County, Ill.

Hebb said he was inspired to launch “Death over Dinner” in 2012 while on a train traveling from Portland to Seattle. After speaking with two doctors in the dining car about the state of the American health care system, he learned a troubling statistic: nearly 75 percent of Americans want to die at home, yet only 25 percent of them do.

Dianne Gray, president of Hospice and Healthcare Communications and a “Death over Dinner” advisor, said she believes most people want to talk about end of life-related issues in a safe, comfortable space.

“It’s not something you talk about when you get into an elevator,” she told Life Matters Media.

Advances in medical technologies have influenced conversations about death, Gray said, because of the multitude of medical options and life-prolonging treatments available.

“There are so many choices now. People have realized through unfortunate events that if they sit down and have conversations and discuss these important matters, that even though death can’t be avoided, we can provide our loved ones with the best possible outcomes and follow their choices and wishes,” she said.

There have already been hundreds of “Death Dinners” across 15 countries. They are neither morbid nor depressing.

Life Matters Media, a nonprofit offering news and resources about end of life-related issues, will facilitate a “Death over Dinner” in Chicago on April 16, National Healthcare Decisions Day.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate way to mark National Healthcare Decisions Day than hosting a ‘Death Over Dinner,’ ” said Randi Belisomo, a Life Matters Media co-founder and WGN-TV journalist.

“This format provides the perfect opening for those who have not considered their end of life care preferences, and we know from our many events that the conversation started at dinner continues long after guests go home. It’s fun, it’s engaging, and the event gets people talking- and listening – over a good meal.”