After Death Over Dinner.

June 6, 2022

After Death Over Dinner.

May 29, 2023

It's interesting how coincidences show up when you're thinking about something. Mine occurred on the evening of the day I attended Chip and Michael Hebb’s workshop, their first Death Over Dinner (DOD) virtual collaboration. Michael, the founder, shared his personal story and how DOD evolved into a global phenomenon.

He posed four questions for each of us to answer in breakout groups: A person who died who impacted us positively. The song at our memorial. If you learned you only had 30 days to live. On the final day.

Our conversation was candid, thoughtful, practical, and wise. We each were informed by our experiences, beliefs, relationships, family directives, health, current and likely future situations. We imagined how we would like to spend our last days and feel content, control what we could, letting go, and celebrating our lives.

We talked about facing fears and not letting them get in the way of living a rewarding life.

I asked if they’d seen the romantic comedy-fantasy “Defending Your Life”. The movie is set in the interim place between life and death. where the defenders and prosecutors present the defendant’s cases and fate is decided. Either back to the life they just left to get it right, or to the next, elevated life.. The Judges’ decision hinges on how the defendant faced their fears and if they overcame them to live a fulfilled life. (cast: Arthur Brooks, Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, Lee Remick)

The breakout ended before I could bring up the Netflix episode of “Grace and Frankie” that epitomizes making your own choices, taking control and celebrating life. Their adventurous, unconventional, cherished neighbor, with a terminal cancer after multiple bouts, decides on assisted suicide and no more debilitating treatments. Babe throws a raucous party with music, dancing, alcohol, and favorite foods. She toasts her guests, and doesn’t reveal what was happening. Despite their grief, Frankie and Grace follow her directives and say their goodbyes, bringing the tea potion to Babe which she drinks that night. Later, they open special presents Babe chose carefully for each, what she knew they needed to propel them beyond their fears. (cast: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Estelle Parsons)

My surprising coincidence that same evening happened while searching for something to watch. I stumbled upon “Never Let Me Go”, a 2010 dystopian movie based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. It examines and confronts death from a different angle, raising broad questions that I find concerning and you might, too, about morality, medical ethics, societal attitudes, and technological medical advances.

The first scene is of a young woman, tears streaming, her friend and great love Tom on an operating table, their eyes locked bittersweetly. Then to an idyllic English boarding school with bright, happy children. It unfolds towards a dark conclusion. The movie made a huge impact on me, partly because it felt close to issues related to my recent life and death kidney disease. (cast: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightly, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins)

Death Over Dinner offers us an opportunity to explore all these questions, and prepare ourselves for difficult conversations with the people we care about. It gives us time to reflect on the meaning and purpose of our lives; how we get past our fears; and how we envision our last days and ensure our affairs are in order. We can express our wishes, our love, and grieve together.

You might consider holding your own version of a Death over Dinner conversation…. perhaps over tea, in nature, a family outing, whatever suits you.

Think how that could feel, and its gifts of gratitude, love and acceptance.

Anita Baker, a MEA Baja and Online alum, leads the North Bay Alumni chapter. She specializes in business development, partnerships, strategy and holistic thinking for late stage startups and growth companies. She is skilled at interviewing people and leading conversations, content development and writing, and is an avid traveler. A recent transplant survivor, she has written articles at medium.com/@AnitaJBaker to contribute to others facing kidney disease and situations requiring persistence, resilience, and resourcefulness. You can reach her at abakersf@gmail.com

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