Food and Finality

by Rebecca Crichton

In 2013, a graduate class in the Communications Department at University of Washington worked on a project to encourage frank and friendly conversations related to end of life. They created a website — Death Over Dinner — packed it with resources and ideas and spread the word. Their effort resulted in more than 100,000 conversations worldwide. I’ve known about the project and passed along the book Let’s Talk About Death (over Dinner) by Michael Hebb to friends and family.

The powerful premise is based on the belief that a group of people can share concerns and experiences about end-of-life issues in a friendly and safe environment along with good food and enough time to listen and share.

Recently, when a good friend asked if I would facilitate a discussion relating to end-of-life matters for her, her partner, two other couples and their adult children, I promptly agreed. Over the almost three hours we were together, we touched on a variety of topics.  They included fears about dementia, legalities relating to the Death with Dignity law, and beginning to understand VSED – Voluntary Stopping Eating and Drinking. It felt extraordinary to create a safe environment for a group of people to share at a level they have never explored together.

Whenever I facilitate a group, I always finish with checking in about what each person will take away from the discussion. I did that after our gathering and was gratified to hear how helpful and meaningful it had been. Two members of the group, who had been reluctant to join, found themselves engaged in ways they found surprising and helpful. Everybody wanted to do it again and if we do, we will drill down with more specificity based on the connections made from our initial discussion.

We know it’s important to understand issues relating to end of life. We also know how challenging it is to address them with our families and friends. This experience clarified for me how to conduct similar conversations in the broader community. Not only was it important to the participants, it was fun and confirmed the value of connecting with others around topics that make us uncomfortable.

I have written that I often scrutinize my life to identify what is still ‘mine to do.’ Of the many things I am good at and the many things I try to include in my life, facilitating a group discussion where people come away feeling heard and informed moves me most deeply. Adding food to the mix makes it all the better.

I am now offering discussions similar to the ones encouraged by the Death Over Dinner movement, tailored to my skills and the goals of NWCCA. We’re calling it Food and Finality. My belief in the value of a trained and informed facilitator for difficult conversations differs from the self-generated discussions of the original concept. It means being able to create and hold a space that ensures everybody is included, remaining aware that the topics we are gathered to explore can engender discomfort, judgments, confusion and other emotions.

Here’s how Food and Finality works:

  • Invite six to ten people who want to talk about end-of-life concerns.
  • Provide food (takeout is fine) and a space for the gathering.
  • Sliding scales ranges from $25 to $50 per person, payable to NWCCA.

Contact NWCCA to schedule and create a gathering that pairs food – yes, you can have a glass of wine – with a conversation that is bound to both inform and support your understanding of what is ‘yours to do.’