When Death is a Dinner Guest
When Death is a Dinner Guest

If you were invited to dinner to talk about death, would you go?  Last November, 175 people answered “Yes!” and attended the worldwide debut of Death Over Dinner – Alzheimer’s Edition.

A collaboration between Death Over Dinner Founder Michael Hebb, who lost his father to Alzheimer’s disease, and Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, the dinner was held in the Keep Memory Alive Event Center.

To spark guided, intimate conversation at each of the 21 tables, guests received carefully developed conversational prompts, from the icebreaker variety  “What song would you like playing at your memorial?” – to the intense: “Imagine you have been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s; how would it feel to receive this news? What plans would you set in motion to ensure as much happiness as possible for yourself and your loved ones?”

Too often, a subject off limits
For three months leading up to the event, Death Over Dinner and the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health convened local community collaborators for input on the content for the evening, including members of the center’s Voice of the Patient and Family Advisory Council and leaders at the Alzheimer’s Association, Compassion Care Hospice and Nevada Senior Services. 

Silvia Perez Protto, MD, head of Cleveland Clinic’s End of Life Center, leveraged experience in her “day job” as well as learnings from the Healthcare Edition that she and Michael Hebb co-hosted in Cleveland in May. She explains, “All too often, we meet a family in the ICU who find themselves in the horrific position of having to make their best good faith decision because they never had the conversation while their loved one still had capacity.”

From the stage at the Las Vegas dinner, Michael Hebb explained that 75 percent of Americans would like to die at home, yet only 25 percent do because they have been too afraid, uncomfortable or intimidated to share their wishes for life and death, even with loved ones. Startled yet inspired by this statistic, he created Death Over Dinner, a nonprofit focused on revolutionizing the way people talk about life and death through curated tableside conversation. More than 200,000 dinners have been hosted in homes and restaurants worldwide. 

As Mr. Hebb likes to say, “You want a mission statement for life? Consider your own mortality.”

Host your own dinner
The curated elements of the dinner have been placed on DeathOverDinner.org, available as a free toolkit for others wishing to host an Alzheimer’s-themed Death Over Dinner with friends and loved ones.

Photo: Silvia Perez Protto, MD, with Michael Hebb at Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health Death Over Dinner event

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