A near disaster at the table.

I’m a writer in the throes of putting together a book about aging and dying, so it makes sense I’d want to facilitate some real-life conversations. And the idea of a dinner party designed specifically for that purpose sounded like a brilliant idea. To garner my husband’s support all it took was an explanation of how I’d found an organization called Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death and thought it was a killer idea.

What can I say—the man appreciates a good pun.

I posted the event to Facebook, offered vague promises of unconventional conversation along with assurances that neither I, nor my husband, were in fact creepy, and to my surprise people quickly agreed to attend.

Sixty days out I got serious about the night’s agenda and sent for detailed talking points from Let’s Have Dinner. What arrived was not what I expected—a long list of homework. I was told everyone in attendance should be asked to read a passage, watch a video, and listen to a piece of music, all in advance.

Um, no?

I don’t mean any disrespect (I’m still a huge fan of the organization) but this didn’t align with my objectives. I wanted the evening to feel effortless, never forced, and homework didn’t factor into that equation.

Thirty days out I still needed ideas so I turned to Twitter for salvation. Surely I wasn’t the only host or hostess to go rogue? I was thrilled when a reply came in suggesting the lucky dip approach, otherwise known as drawing questions from a hat.

But would it be enough?

Look, I know you’re surrounded by total strangers but please reveal your deepest thoughts and emotions regarding a taboo subject only marginally less intimate than sex.

Would it be awkward? Pointless? Painful? I didn’t really know and it made me nervous.

Seven days out my anxiety kicked into overdrive and I briefly toyed with cancelling, except I couldn’t bring myself to fabricate an outright lie and explaining the truth—um, yeah, so the thought of facilitating this strange conversation is causing my insides to melt—was out of the question. Meanwhile, my husband assured me everything would be fine.

He always does that. It must be in our vows.

Four days out I finalized the menu, made arrangements for extra chairs, purchased a thousand candles and tried not to fret. When the appointed day arrived I threw myself into preparations, cleaning every inch of the house irrespective of that fact that we’d be eating outside and no one would ever lay eyes on the spare bedroom in the basement.

Then the guests appeared and we settled around the table beneath a perfect September sunset to begin an evening of talking and sharing, discovering and laughing. It was more than I could have expected–people opening up without reservation, easily sharing their thoughts with honesty, humor and compassion.

What is your greatest fear about dying?
That I won’t be remembered…that I’ll be forgotten by those I love and then I’ll be nothing. I’ll be no one.

If you could plan your own funeral, what would it include?
I want bagpipes at my funeral because I’m a cop and that sound piped me into this life I’ve been so fortunate to live and I want it piping me right back out again.

Traditional burial, cremation, or something else?
I want my family and closest friends to take my ashes and travel the globe, then scatter me where there is meaning for them, where they can experience a part of the world that brings openness, appreciation, or reflection.

And so it went, an entire evening spent in companionable discussion about dying.

At the end of the night, saying farewell to our guests, I felt such gratitude—for the moonlit night, the camaraderie of friends, and the confirmation of my belief that talking about death can be equal parts funny and sad, effortless and profound, affirming and transformative.


December 11th, 2016