If you show up at “Death Over Dinner” next week expecting to see a theater troupe’s adaptation of an Agatha Christie whodunit, you’re in for a much more profound experience.
Grand County Hospice will be hosting its first-ever event to engage local residents in a dinner-table discussion about a subject that many Americans shy away from: death. Hospice staffers and volunteers will be serving fall-inspired meals in an intimate and informal setting at the Youth Garden Project’s Shafer House on Friday, Nov. 13, at 6:30 p.m., offering guests a comfortable place to talk about potentially difficult issues.
“Part of our vision is to create acceptance of death as a natural process and something that doesn’t have to be a really scary event,” Grand County Hospice Director Jessie Walsh said.
A dinner table seems like the right place to start that discussion, Walsh said, noting that it’s often the center of conversation when families sit down to eat together at the end of a long day.
Yet when it comes to subjects like end-of-life care, advance directives and death itself, many families are reluctant to talk.
“It is an important conversation that we’re not having,” Walsh said. “We’re seeing it with our patients and their families.”
Most of the time, she said, hospice patients have come to accept their fates. But their family members are not necessarily ready to do the same, and in some cases, the death of a loved one can cause a crisis in their lives.
“We’re trying to just make an effort to get more people talking so there’s less suffering and more comfort around death,” she said.
According to The Conversation Project, more than nine out of 10 Americans think it’s important to talk about their family’s wishes for end-of-life care, yet less than one in three actually end up having that conversation.
Likewise, almost three out of four Americans would like to die at home, yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that roughly that same number ultimately die at a hospital, nursing home or long-term care facility.
Eighty percent of another survey’s respondents said they would like to talk to their doctors about end-of-life care if they become seriously ill, although the California HealthCare Foundation reported that just 7 percent do so.
Shifting the discussions of those issues from intensive care units to dining tables was the main goal of the Conversation Project, which launched in 2010 to help people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care before it’s too late. Two years later, Seattle resident Michael Hebb’s chance encounter with two doctors led to a lively discussion about the country’s health care system, and inspired him to start the Death Over Dinner movement.
Moab Regional Hospital Marketing and Communications Director Sarah Shea, who previously lived in the Seattle area, said she can clearly see how Death Over Dinner originated there.
“I think it’s because Seattle is a place that’s really open to progressive ideas, such as getting comfortable with death,” she said.
Shea studied sociology in college, and her interest in advanced-care directives, end-of-life care and death-related issues began with a course on death and dying. However, Moab Regional Hospital CEO Jen Sadoff was actually the one who first introduced her to the idea of hosting a Death Over Dinner event – an idea that Shea immediately embraced.
“I can see the community being really open and receptive to this kind of event,” she said.
Walsh acknowledged that death can be a morbid topic.
“But it doesn’t have to be,” she said. “If everyone’s on the right page, it can be a celebration of life at the same time.”
Anyone who RSVPs for Death Over Dinner by Tuesday, Nov. 10, will receive assignments to read, watch and listen to before they arrive at Shafer House on Nov. 13. “Gentle facilitators” will also be on hand to keep the conversations moving at each table, although Walsh predicts that diners will do just fine on their own.
“I don’t think we’ll have any trouble getting people going once they start talking,” she said.
“Hopefully, there will be some laughter, as well as tears,” she added. “We’re missing out on a lot of that celebration when we’re pushing that talk aside.”
There will be a suggested donation of $35 to help cover event costs and to support the hospice. The donation is not required, and should not discourage anyone from attending.
Event aims to promote healthy conversations about death
When: Friday, Nov. 13, at 6:30 p.m.: RSVP by Tuesday, Nov. 10
Where: Shafer House at the Youth Garden Project, 530 S. 400 East
Cost: Suggested donation of $35 per person; donations are not required
For more information, or to RSVP, contact Jessie Walsh at 435-719-3772, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Part of our vision is to create acceptance of death as a natural process and something that doesn’t have to be a really scary event.”