Death is an unpleasant topic. Of all the literature, music, poetry and art dedicated to the subject over the years, it still intimidates us and strikes us as an unseemly discussion topic, even with our closest family and friends. Perhaps it is fear of the unknown, perhaps an avoidance of uncomfortable conversations, or a fear that one could cause tension within the family, but whatever the reasons, it is an important gap in our family discourse. Seeking to fill that gap, an interesting new practice is springing up. Baby Boomers especially, but really people of all ages have begun hosting “Death Dinners,” at which the guests discuss their feelings about how they would like their aging and their passing handled.
As technology has allowed us more control over our lives, control in the death and aging process has also become important. Part of that is confronting the issue head on, by discussing it openly with loved ones. A dinner party can ensure that moods are light as the topic is discussed. Subjects such as how we want to be buried, how we feel about life support, and where we want to live when we can’t take care of ourselves are all fair game at these events. Some have their close family and friends over to discuss their own aging and make firm plans for how it should go, and some have more social gatherings at which they discuss subjects ranging from how to have difficult conversations with their families to more philosophical questions, like what awaits us after death. Who attends and what to talk about is entirely up to the host and his or her guests. Some families have been taking the opportunity to anticipate disagreements over what mom or dad would have wanted, and settle them by making clear what mom and dad want while they are alive. Others are having simply trying to relieve the stress associated with the subject matter by having a frank discussion with friends.
Two organizations, Death over Dinner and The Conversation Project, are encouraging people to host a death dinner during the first week of 2014. At either of their websites, deathoverdinner.org or theconverstaionproject.org, visitors can use a portal at the homepage to construct an invitation to a death dinner party. The site progresses through a series of questions and generates an invitation that you can email to your guests. They also have suggestions for media materials to read, watch, and listen to, which can help you prepare for the conversation. Both organizations have information on their websites about the subject of end-of-life planning, which can help people who want to start the process but may not know how. These are the sorts of resources and conversations that allow families to prepare mentally and emotionally for what can be an incredibly taxing time regardless of how well planned it is.
There are some things about the aging process that can be handled by the professionals in your life. At AlerStallings, we can establish your estate plan and help you protect your assets for your spouse and children. We can also help you develop a long-term care plan that ensures that your family is taken care of if you need a heightened level of care as you age. These are our bread-and-butter services, and they are important to think about as you age and prepare for the final chapter in your life. What we cannot do, however, is ensure that your friends and family know what you do and do not want as you age. A candid conversation, a glass of wine, and a plate of spaghetti can go a long way in opening up a family dialogue about your expectations. A good conversation can help iron out differences and avoid having your loved ones fight about what they think you might have wanted. If all goes as planned, the only thing your family will have to argue about after the dinner is who should do the dishes.