Sitting down to dinner to talk about death might seem a rather odd way to spend an evening. But in recent years there have been several initiatives with the aim of helping us to be more open about this taboo subject.

One of these, the Death Café movement, has become a worldwide phenomenon since it started back in 2011. I’ve been to a couple of these and found them interesting. It’s odd to have a cup of coffee with complete strangers and discuss death but it seems to work for many people.

Death over Dinner is a newer addition to these “death positive” initiatives and is currently USA based. But like the Café it takes the idea of sharing food and drink as a starting point. A way to break the ice and create an informal atmosphere from the start. A least that’s the idea…

I doubt if I would have attended or even had an invitation for a Death over Dinner if it hadn’t been for my MSc course. Two of my classmates, Jennifer Rigal and Kelly Oberle, thought that it might be a good way for us to get to know each other better as a class and give us a different way to explore our mutual interest in end of life issues.

Of course, the original format of both the café and the dinner was an actual meeting – all together around a table. But we’ve adapted over the last year to move events online and this is no exception… and, in fact, our class is very international with people from several countries, Kelly and Jennifer both live in Canada, so the online option is the only way we could manage this (though it wan’t exactly “dinner time” for us all!)

We had some trouble with the official website so we decided to go ahead and organize it with our own Zoom meeting but following the format. This includes homework in the form of several things to watch or read, and some prepared questions to guide conversations. And here is one big difference from the Death Café format which is usually much less structured. Which is better? Well, we could see advantages in both. It’s probably a question of personal taste but for us as a group of people who are all studying these issues, the more formal and structured format worked well.

Mind you, we didn’t answer all the suggested questions. In fact we had so much to say that we didn’t get beyond the first item on the list! And this is something I’ve noticed before. Although death is seen as a great taboo, when people gather in these sorts of groups there generally is plenty chat. Maybe it’s because the format really does encourage it. Maybe because the people who choose to attend are already comfortable talking about the topic.

At any rate, we found it a valuable exercise. A good way to get to know one another a bit more. And to chat a bit more widely about things that motivate us.

Kelly and Jennifer were asked to write up the experience for the End of Life Studies blog and you can read their entry here. Many thanks to them for organizing the event. And thanks to all my classmates for making it a memorable evening.

Michael Hannah, Dundee. 5 April 2021

Death over Dinner

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