100 people share a feast. Olean, NY

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One bucket list item on the wish list at “Death Over Dinner” stated the participant would like to race in the Iditarod before he died. Another said she wanted to be a grandma before life slipped away.

The wish list, containing comments from participants at Wednesday’s dinner gathering, was one of many aspects of the free event at the John Ash Community Center. The two-hour session brought older community members, their families and professionals together to talk about the importance of making final arrangements before it’s too late.

The event, sponsored by the Cattaraugus County Department of Aging, was attended by close to 100 people. Major sponsors were the United Way of Cattaraugus County, Casey, Halwig and Hartle Funeral Home and The Wilday Group at Morgan Stanley. Also on hand were more than 10 agencies and businesses that provided information and materials on end-of-life issues.
Cathy Mackay, director of the Department of Aging, said she was very pleased with the turnout at the inaugural event.

“This was a brainchild between Amy Snyder and myself,” Ms. Mackay said of Ms. Snyder of HomeCare & Hospice in Olean. “We thought we needed to do this in Cattaraugus County.” Assisting with the project were Kathy Hamed of the Olean Senior Center and Candy Plants of the United Way.

The dining trend, which has been launched across the United States and other countries around the world, brings people together over a dinner table, usually in a relaxed atmosphere, to discuss a serious topic. Ms. Mackay and Ms. Snyder said they believed the event was necessary because so many people and families skirt around the issue of death and making final arrangements.

“Everybody knows they have to do this, but nobody’s ready to do it,” Ms. Snyder said.

The session was also conducted by professionals who shared their expertise and real-life stories with the audience. Professionals on hand also provided personal planning kits to the audience.

Participants at the event included Paul and Esther Desnoyers of Allegany, who were among those writing dreams on the wish list they hoped would materialize. Mrs. Desnoyers’ wish was to have a family photo taken of all her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren together. Mr. Desnoyers said he wanted to visit Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon some day. He also mentioned a more important reason for their visit.

“We came here just basically for information at this point,” Mr. Desnoyers added. “They told us we’d find out about living wills and trusts and financial affairs.”
Ann Feightner of Total Senior Care in Olean was a moderator of the program.
“We’re happy to be a part of this and happy to join in on the first community conversation about celebrating life and honoring people’s wishes and choices in regard to death,” Ms. Feightner said.

Speaking on behalf of funeral directors was Dennis Casey of Casey, Halwig and Hartle Funeral Home. “I have a lot of people who say ‘I’ve got to give you a call to talk about my arrangements’ when they come in for somebody’s wake or funeral,” Mr. Casey said. “And then a month goes by and a year goes by.”

He said making one’s final arrangements is as easy as calling him or other funeral directors and stopping in for a brief meeting. Mr. Casey admitted that he had never heard of the unusual community dinner before and wondered how well the Olean event would be received. “I wondered if the Death Over Dinner would turn people away or make them come out of curiosity,” he said. “It looks like curiosity won out.”

July 12th, 2014