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Why Death Is Good Dinner Conversation

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Heather Millar - Blogs
By Heather MillarAward-winning writerMarch 24, 2016
From the WebMD Archives

All cancer patients know that there’s nothing like the words, “You’ve got cancer,” to make you think about death. It certain did me. When I was going through active treatment, I made my general wishes known: die at home, no life support if hope is gone, a minimum of wailing, a big memorial party, cremation, move on with your lives.

As I write this, I’m five years post-diagnosis and officially in “survivorship” care – I now go in for follow-up only once a year. And I have to admit, with cancer further and further in the rearview mirror, it’s easy to get back into denial mode when it comes to death – “I’m going to live forever!”

But we need to acknowledge death, talk about it, whether we’re a terminal patient, a just-diagnosed Stage I patient, or someone entering “survivorship.”

Recently, there have been the beginnings of a movement to help us all get real and have “the talk” about death.

• “Death Over Dinner” is a non-profit website that offers guidance and resources for planning a gathering of friends and family to talk about death. Through a questionnaire—who you’d want to invite, exactly what you’d want to discuss, what you’d like people read/watch/listen to before attending—you can figure out what’s best for your group. The site will send an invitation out for you, provide conversation prompts and tips on moderating such a dinner.

• The Conversation Project focuses less on dinner gatherings and more on promoting personal conversations and community organizing, whatever the venue. They provide a starter kit in several languages to help people start the process of talking about death. The project also provides resources for those who’d like to start a community effort, including suggestions for organizing, how to host conversation events, how to measure what sort of impacts those events have. They also sponsor a monthly “Community Call” to talk about these issues.

Together, both groups are organizing a week-long National Dinner Party to Dine and Discuss Death April 16 through 22.

Many surveys show that as many as three-quarters of Americans want to die at home. Yet that same number, three-quarters of us, actually are likely to die in a hospital or nursing home. So let’s get talking. Even if it’s scary and awkward, having this talk will greatly increase the chances that your end-of-life wishes are honored.

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About the Author
Heather Millar

Heather Millar is an award-winning freelance magazine writer and author with wide-ranging interests including health, science, the environment, geopolitics, technology, parenting, and Asian affairs. 

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