Inspired by our own experiences with death and dying, Hiro and I were excited to bring together a group of people who we knew would have had their own experiences, thoughts, and fears about the topic. And if there’s one other thing that impacts us ALL, it’s food. So by coupling these two things, we curated a group of strangers interested in sharing both of these experiences with each other. We enjoyed a night of great food from Moltaqa and Edible Projects, listened to Prince, laughed, cried, reminisced, and toasted loved ones gone from each of our lives. It was an incredible evening, which was impactful for a variety of reasons.
We were all very different, yet learned about many similarities: Our table was filled with people of different ages and races, quiet and loud, scared of death and ready for death. Chefs, writers, and a funeral planner. Soon-to-be parents and students. Sons and daughters who lost parents and parents who were afraid of losing children. People who’d watched others die and helped others die. The list goes on, but what was so eye-opening was that we feared the same things, or planned in similar ways, or struggled with the same roadblocks when it comes to talking about death with family or loved ones.
Food really does make talking about this stuff easier: In my work in the death space, I’ve learned a lot about the connections between food and death. We use food to heal, help, support, and practice rituals related to grief. When inviting people into conversations about death, it makes a huge difference to do so over food: it gives our bodies something nourishing when we’re doing hard mental and emotional labour; it gives us something to do while other people are talking; and it normalizes the conversation about death by having it in a familiar setting (meal time) that we’re in at least a few times a day.
Being truly present takes effort, but when you make it it’s worth it: One of the things that my partner and I realized after dinner was that we’d been truly, wholly present in the introductions everyone gave. Yes, when people talk we listen. But there are a lot of different ways to listen. During this dinner, so many of us remarked that we’d been listening intently, realizing that making that effort made the whole world fall away, and as a result we were able to shed judgements about different practices or beliefs, stress of our own death experiences, or distractions that keep us from learning when we’re listening.
Talking about death can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be: Many of us at our Death Over Dinner felt like we were “lucky” to be surrounded by people so willing to be vulnerable, open, honest, and curious. But I believe that there are a lot of ways that peopl can set a table and have the incredible results that we had. By simply telling your friends, family, or another set of strangers that they’re in a safe space to learn and share in, it’s easier to settle into conversation than you think.
By talking about these things we are helped in so many ways: we feel less isolated in our grief, we feel inspired to talk to others about their end-of-life planning, and our eyes are opened to new ways of approaching these topics with comfort and positivity. So if you’re inspired to host a Death Over Dinner, I could not encourage it more! And if you’re interested in learning more about how people here in Vancouver are tackling these subjects in their work every day, below are some useful resources from badass entrepreneurs.