…Practical advice on finding a connection with who you are, what you're about and what a good death means to you as you grow inwardly and age outwardly.
Looking to the Future — Signs of Culture Change Surrounding Dying Care
Tag : Death Over Dinner

shutterstock_187897427Here’s a list offered by The Conversation Project that’s significant because it is broadcasting out there that we are working our way toward living life to its end the way we want to. But first, a statement from this great organization:

“This is not your average Buzzfeed list. No celebrities below. But nevertheless a few hats and horns are warranted because 2014 was the year when Americans finally began breaking the code of silence about end-of-life conversations. When The Conversation Project was founded, the media was full of static about “death Panels.” It was still taboo to talk about how we wanted to live at the end of life — the care we wanted, the care we didn’t want. We and many others believed it was the most important conversation America wasn’t having. It was important to change the culture, to change the cultural norm, that is, from not talking about dying to talking about it. Now, with a small ta-da, we say things are truly changing. We herby offer the Top Ten Signs of Culture Change in 2014.”


Top 10 Signs of Culture Change in 2014

  1. The Institute of Medicine releases its report, “Dying in America,” that pushes the importance of honoring preferences on the public agenda.
  2. Atule Gawande’s book, “Being Mortal” on aging and end of life rises to bet seller list and stays there.
  3. The Conversation Project logs its 250,000 website visitor and The Conversation Starter Kit spreads from there to AARP, United Health Care, and even Consumer reports.
  4. “The Fault in Our Stars” proves that yes, you can so do a movie about dying and earns a stunning $48.2 million the first weekend.
  5. Massachusetts rules that doctors must have conversations about advance planning with terminally ill patients.
  6. More than 140 organizations in 35 states join The Conversation Project’s grassroots initiative to make their communities Conversation Ready.
  7. Roz Chast’s cartoon book asking the provocative and humorous question “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” is named one of the Tip Ten Books of the year by the New York Times.
  8. Brittany Maynard’s illness and death provokes a national debate.
  9. The Writers Guilds East and West invite The Conversation Project and UCLA’s Global Media Center for Social Impact to engage screenwriters for scripts to “Die Well or Die Trying.”
  10. The American Medical Association recommends reimbursement to doctors for holding conversations.

shutterstock_172671014And I have to mention “Death over Dinner,” that’s all about change beginning at the dinner table. Check it out at wwwdeathoverdinner.org. This organization is using the dinner table to revolutionize how we discuss death.

A friend and I have and are planning dinners in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. I have to tell you that these dinners are not morbid, but empowering and challenging for those who attend. Please join us by having one as well to tell a story, have a conversation, and change the culture.

Each of us can lead by example and help each other create a most personal end-of-life journey and in this way, as The Conversation Project states, break the code of silence around end-of-life conversations. Happy New Year!

Note: The Conversation Project is dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care. The Project began 2010 when Ellen Goodman (co-Founder and Director) and a group of colleagues, clergy, medical professionals, and concerned media got together to share personal stories of “good deaths” and “bad deaths.”

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death over dinner photo

Ten of us gathered for a family style dinner at my home in Virginia Beach on April 14th 2014. It was planned around the 7th Annual National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) on April 16th.

We were following in the footsteps of the work of a group of healthcare and wellness leaders who are committed to break the taboo regarding conversations about end of life. This group launched a website and project on August 24th 2013 called “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death.” www.deathoverdinner.org

Here’s what set our dinner apart from others

  • There were nearly fifty years separating the youngest (26) and the oldest (73). That brought to the table many lifetimes of living.
  • It was an evening all about living well, eating well, dying well, and the choices we can make in living our life to its end.
  • Jim White, founder and owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios, joined us to talk about these many things.
  • We recognized that dying is about living. Living to the end of our days. That we are living until we die. It’s about our vitality and what we love about life, and when time grows short, what is most important to us. 
  • We chose to watch together two videos before we ate rather than have these assigned as ‘homework’ before this evening;
    Randy and Sandy’s Advance Care Plan, 6 episodes on Vimeo where puppets showed us the light hearted approach to much needed conversation. https://vimeo.com/channels/722879
    Imagine, a NHDD Speak Up Video, an amazing video on advance care planning, gracefully explaining why it matters for All of us.

What DID we talk about?

We began our meal with a toast to each other and to those who we carry in our hearts and are no longer with us.

Some of us had never experienced a serious illness of a loved one or themselves. Others had had a heart attach and were cancer survivors.

We talked about death and how we want to be remembered. How to deal creatively with death and making our life speak in a meaningful way. We acknowledged it was easier to talk about when we are gone and what we want left behind and remembered for than to talk about how we want to die.

We talked about the fear of the unknown and nonexistence. We knew this to be a topic for another time.

We shared our stories of someone, a loved one who died, a parent, a brother, a grandparent — those young, who died too early and those who reached a ripe old age before they passed. One shared about a son who died at 16. A story was told about a car crash that could have been catastrophic but they walked away.


There’s nothing like the present and living each moment.

That we should be prepared & have a plan.

That dying we can on our own terms.

Here’s what emails followed our evening:

The evening was magical. Everyone opened up to share their experiences while the others sat quietly and absorbed the words.  

We walked away feeling more at ease about discussing death. The food was so healthy, comforting and tasty.

It was amazing…I already have 2 couples interested in the next one!!

(On a lighter note) I adored the idea of an off switch.

I am thankful for this wonderful  dinner to die for, dying and dining, or dying  to eat night… “Which ever may apply ,” 🙂 I think the time is right for everyone to share their thoughts of life’s last breath and how they prefer to deal with it.

And for me, the hostess: I’ve been going over and over our evening. I wasn’t clear what would unfold. But what was apparent, was that all of us were willing to be part of creating this evening together. We simply let it happen. I continue to feel empowered …and comforted and released.

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shutterstock_129035513Today commercials are on just about everything. And these everythings used to be definite unmentionables, even taboo. It was rude and inappropriate to talk about them even at the dinner table!

But these days, you can flip through channels and hear commercials and see public awareness ads on such subjects as depression, mental illness, AIDs, breast cancer, domestic violence, autism, memory loss and Alzheimer’s. This is a good thing. Hearing about these things can help those who are in the need to know and help others become aware and understanding.

Isn’t it time to lift the taboo about not talking about dying? Isn’t it a good idea to have infomercials about how to be prepared, have a talk, and have a plan?

There’s a lot of discussion on this — opening up and talking about end of life — on the web. Wonderful and empowering sites. To name a few: The Conversation Project, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation, Death Over Dinner, National Healthcare Decision Day, Compassion and Choices, and ACP (Advance Care Plan) Decisions. These organizations and related sites center around being prepared for the inevitable and dying the way you would want.

Yes, it’s a fact. We all get dying, somehow, someday. It’s unavoidable. A dying awareness campaign applies to everyone. The commercials wouldn’t prevent or cure ourselves of dying but they’d make us aware of the need to know ourselves, the choices (medical, palliative, legal), and the problems that we may face when dying.

Let’s face it, being discerning about all this frees us to focus on something very important when the time comes – letting go and helping our loved ones let us go too.

I believe it’s time to launch an awareness ad campaign on how we die and how you can be prepared.

What do you think?

I’m not one to suggest something if I wouldn’t do it. So heads up, I’m currently working with others creating YouTube infomercials that will be coming shortly. Probably by February 2014. I’ll keep you posted.



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Posted on December 4, 2013 by Diane Burnside Murdock