Imagine someone inviting you to a scrumptious dinner party and adding that the theme of the evening will be death! Death dinners seem to be gaining in popularity around the country for Baby Boomers, especially for those dealing with end-of-life issues for their aging parents.
Many of us Leading Edge Boomers are also coming to grips that we, too, will very likely die some day. While we don’t expect or want it to be anytime soon, we do know it will happen someday.
These death dinners are not nearly as morbid as they may sound. We've always hosted dinner parties as part of our lifestyles. But this is just adding a theme to those dinners. And many who participate reportedly find it refreshing and appreciate that the taboo of discussing death has finally apparently been lifted.
Why not let our friends and loved ones know how we want to make our big exit? We’ve led the way in so many other arenas throughout our lives, why not this one, too? Some might even accuse us of always getting what we want. OK, guilty as charged, why stop now?
Do we want to be cremated or buried? How much do we care where we die? So many people (approximately 70 percent of Americans) express the desire to die in their own home, yet only 20 to 30 percent actually do. Most die in hospitals or nursing homes.
What kinds of interventions do we want – feeding tubes or respirators or other means of resuscitation? Or do we just want to go peacefully when it’s time?
When we don’t know what people want, we’re left second-guessing their final wishes after they die. And this often leads to hard feelings, disagreements and conflicts among those left behind.
The impetus for the death dinner trend came from Michael Hebb, a former restaurateur and artist in Seattle, WA. He had been involved in a conversation with two doctors on a train a few years ago and was disturbed about some of the issues discussed, like people not having their lives end the way they wanted.
He and an associate at the University of Washington created an experimental graduate course called "Let's Have Dinner and Talk About Death." Hebb thought sharing food is where people are most at ease to talk about difficult topics. And the idea caught fire around the country.
We don’t actually have to host death dinners to get at the issue. We just need to be open, frank and in communication. If it’s our elderly parents, we should ask them about their wishes. Even if they don’t want to talk about it, we should patiently walk them through whatever scenarios could come up and ask what kinds of decisions they’d like us to make.
When it’s ourselves, we should make sure our adult children or loved ones who will make those decisions actually know what we want – before it’s too late. Some people, particularly if they know death is near, even make suggestions for what they’d like to see in their obituaries. How would you like to be remembered after you’re gone?
We’ve heard forever – way before death dinners became the trend – that wills and living wills are important. Letting others know what we think, what our desires are and how we see those final days unfolding is critical.
Even having a plan and communicating that plan doesn’t always ensure one’s wishes will be honored. But at least they’ve been expressed.
It’s great to think we have some sayso about how we depart this world. A perfect end to having a life of gusto is saying goodbye with gusto.