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Death Over Dinner

In under 3 years has inspired 1/2 a million people to break bread and discuss end life. Total budget: $11,000.

Photo of Michael Hebb
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In just two years Death Over Dinner has provided the framework and inspiration for over 100,000 dinners in 30 countries.  Our simple model has powerfully impacted individual families and larger communities; catalyzing end of life conversations and motivating individuals to complete living wills and advance care directives. Each dinner includes invitation material, pre-dinner homework assignments, a comprehensive framework for the dinner discussion, and a clear set of follow-up steps. This May we launch an Australian version of DOD in partnership with and support from the Australian government and dozens of hospitals, universities, and medical organizations down under. We are currently developing similar web platforms in Japan and Mexico, and have begun work on a Jewish Edition, a Doctors and Nurses Edition, and a new project focused on Alzheimer’s patients and families. was developed at the University of Washington by Michael Hebb, Angel Grant, and the design firm Civilization. 

To whet the appetite for this conversation, Deathoverdinner and The Conversation Project created an e-cookbook, “The Endless Table” recipes from departed loved ones. Famous chefs and food writers like Tom Colicchio, Ina Garten, Tim Ferriss, Amanda Hesser, Ben Ford, José Andrés, Michel Nischan and many more have donated a recipe in honor of a loved one, along with a personal story about why the dish they chose is personally meaningful. Proceeds of the e-cookbook will benefit both public engagement campaigns, The Conversation Project and Death Over Dinner. 

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

We would love to expand the scope of our project. The response so far has been overwhelming. We have seen our simple website impact the way families and entire communities discuss and plan for end of life. We want to increase death literacy on a global level, and deepen the digital experience of DOD, add a mobile app, and expand to dozens of countries in the next 5 years.


Michael Hebb and Angel Grant


Join the conversation:

Photo of Amy Holliday

I'd love if you had a chance to take a look at my contribution, The 12 Month Mortality Calendar, and provide any reactions, positive or negative, to help prototype/test putting the thought into action and adjust my entry/submission before the OpenIDEO Refinement Phase ends. I realize I am contacting you late in the game, but my family has been plowing through stages of mourning recently and my ability to work on this project has been haphazard. Slow but steady wins the race and I will definitely be continuing this challenge even if I don't move to the next phase officially, so I appreciate any input, even after the Refinement Phase for OpenIDEO ends.
I believe incorporating a annual calendar of fun, community, Death Over Dinner events, into a calendar of annual "continuing education" events at physician offices, hospitals and nursing homes (whose quality measure reporting is tied to quality advance care planning) is a win-win-win. Any input from you or your colleagues to help prototype a 12 Month Mortality Calendar would help us get one step closer to re-imagining the end-of-life experience for our communities.
Thank you and thank you again! :) 

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi Michael.  Thanks for sharing this work!  It was so interested to read about how the idea came to be and how you moved the idea forward.  I am curious about the new editions you are creating and how they will be different - the Jewish edition and the Doctors and Nurses edition.  Are these meant to be used exclusively by these communities, and if so why would folk that are part of these communities need to go to a separate  "death over dinner?"
Looking forward to learning more!

Photo of Sue Kemple

Such a great initiative. We hosted a Death over Dinner event at my mom's home back in October, with mostly people in their 70's and 80's. One of the women at the table was struggling to find ways to talk with her ailing mother about these issues, but she found the dinner gave her courage and support to do so. As one attendee put it, "I thought this was going to be dreadful, but it turned out to be lovely." 

Our project, My Last Soundtrack, has encouraged people to check out your site and plan these dinners to get the tough conversations started. We will continue to do so. Congratulations, Michael!

Photo of Shane Zhao

We're so glad to see you in this challenge Michael! Just an hour ago, we (the OpenIDEO team) were literally talking about organizing our own death over dinner here in San Francisco. It's quite incredible to see the movement you and Angel had started — and how many radical conversations it has sparked. It's exciting to hear how the Death Over Dinner platform is growing to engage more communities. We'd love to hear more about some of the new projects you've been working on when the Ideas phase of this challenge opens in 3 weeks:)

And here's a helpful Tip: to activate links in your post, hit the Edit Contribution button at the top of your post . Scroll down to your Full Description field. Select the text you'd like to link, hit the link icon in the Rich Text Editor at the top of this field and enter your link. That way everyone will be able to check it out easily, straight from your post.

Photo of Michael Hebb

Great to hear from you Shane! Let us know if we can help in any way with your SF dinner. And of course we would love to chat at any point. Thrilled you are opening up the conversation/innovation on EOL - it is going to take so many of us to change the culture around dying! 

Photo of Sami Packard

I'd love to come to a Death over Dinner event! If you plan one in SF, can others like me come? I'm in the Bay! 

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Michael, talking about coincidence, I was on your website yesterday as I was looking for inspiration for conversation starters for a death café (a model similar to yours), NYC OpenIDEO chapter is organizing next week! I find the idea really interesting, and the response very telling about people's needs. Thanks for sharing!

Photo of Michael Hebb

Hi Anne! Let me know if you need any additional conversational prompts - we have dozens that aren't on the site. - drop me a line! 

Photo of Morgan Meinel

Michael, I could not agree more with Shane! It is so remarkable to see how many individuals your movement has positively impacted. Wow. What a beautiful and supportive way to bring people together in a safe setting to discuss such difficult and challenging topics as end of life. As a Palliative and Hospice Care Nurse, I'm witness to so much fear, anxiety, and worry surrounding death and dying - and it's movements such as yours that help create a safe and supportive space where people can express there concerns and embrace their mortality, rather than feel averse to it.  I'm so grateful for the work you do. It's tremendous.  I would love to arrange a Death over Dinner in New York City! 

Photo of Michael Hebb

Hi Sami - we are planning a large one in October, please keep an eye on our facebook page for details.

Photo of Michael Hebb

Ah, thank you Morgan! And thank you for efforts in Hospice, we are humbled by anyone doing such critical heart-based work. We are currently building a Doc + Nurse edition, shoot us an email and we will keep you in the loop as we develop the content. Should be launching this fall. 

Photo of Morgan Meinel

Just wonderful! Thanks, Michael :) 

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Michael Hebb

Thank you IDEO! 

Photo of Jessica Wingate

I have been fortunate enough to participate in a Death Over Dinner evening and it was nothing short of life changing and life affirming. To have a space to talk and share about our wishes, our fears and our experiences around death is a true true gift. No one left the same as when they entered......and we also laughed a lot! Which I wasn't prepared for. I CANNOT recommend Death Over Dinner more as a tool for communicating our end of life wishes but also as a tool for connecting to those around us. We all share the common bond of death and the more we talk about it the better we'll be able to deal with the lose and grief associated with it. Bravo Death Over Dinner.  

Photo of Michael Hebb

Thanks Jess!!! Here is to many more deep conversational journeys! 

Photo of Amy Holliday

I have hosted 2 informal, friends and family, Death Over Dinner events in the past 30 days... our guests have been pleasantly surprised that conversations about what matters most at the end and what has been communicated to family and physicians seldom matches, but now they know how to continue the conversations! We intend to host a community-wide Death Over Dessert event in Augusta, GA near the holidays in combination with Conversation Sabbath! Passionate to empower hacks to sterile hospital deaths!

Photo of Michael Hebb

This makes us so happy Amy! Let us know if we can assist in any way as you plan the Augusta event!