Let’s Talk about Death over a Nice Meal

Death over Dinner, Jewish Community Center East Bay

Death is an uncomfortable subject for many people. The way we die is one of the most important conversations Americans are not having. But during the last five years, a movement to break the silence has been growing. Death cafés and death over dinner events have attracted thousands of people around the world. These are group conversations about death held in discussion circles or around the dinner table—often with total strangers.

Death Goes Public

The Jewish Community Center East Bay held its first death over dinner last November in Berkeley. Fourteen guests were invited and they sat down at two tables. Dinner began with glasses of fine wine and a sumptuous meal of salmon, tofu, lasagna with butternut squash, and lentil salad, followed by dessert and coffee.

Death over Dinner
“Food brings people together,” said Amy Tobin, chief executive officer with the JCC East Bay, who led the discussion at one of the tables. The wine and the meal created a
Amy Tobin, CEO, JCC East Bay
relaxing atmosphere that helped the dinner guests open up and unwind.

“It was like an unlocking,” said Tobin, “People were talking about their experiences very openly. They were talking about loss, grief, and fear. And that’s a relief—there’s a kind of catharsis in letting that stuff out.” She added, “There was also something kind of amazing about strangers very quickly becoming so compassionate and supportive of each other.”

Several guests shared memories of parents and grandparents they had lost. Some shed tears and expressed regrets about not having had end-of-life conversations with family members and friends before or immediately after the deaths of their loved ones.

“I never visited her,” said Abby, one of the dinner guests talking about her deceased grandmother, “I didn’t go to her funeral. This is just the way my family treats death.”

“One of the greatest losses is I can’t thank her, that I can’t go ‘oh my God, look what you did for me’,” said Renee, another dinner guest talking about her mother.

“This is a conversation that the entire country needs to be having,” states Michael Hebb, the creator of the national campaign “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk about Death.” Hebb hosted his first death over dinner in San Francisco five years ago. Hebb estimates that since 2013, over 100,000 death over dinners have been held in thirty countries.1

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