Death Over Dinner

Death Over Dinner is another let’s have dinner and talk about death movement like the Death Cafe. The introduction by the  founder, Michael Hebb, begins:

On a beautiful June morning in 2012 I boarded a train traveling from Portland to Seattle, and quickly made my way to the dining car. Within a few minutes I found myself in a lively conversation with two strangers, both doctors, and both very concerned about the state of our health care system. What I learned during that conversation was shocking, and the statistic that broke my heart was this:

Nearly 75% of Americans want to die at home, yet only 25% of them do.

I asked the doctors: Do you think that how we end our lives is the most important and costly conversation America is not having?

They said: Absolutely.

And then I asked them this: If I helped create a national campaign called “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death,” did they think I would find support from doctors, patients, essentially everyone?

They said: Absolutely. You must do this!

Death Over Dinner LogoOne month later he and his graduate students in Communications at the University of Washington had signed up over 30 of the country’s healthcare and wellness leaders as Advisors and TEDMED had asked them to take the main stage at their prestigious conference.

His bio on the TEDMED site is very detailed and interesting. He has been hosting dinners on serious topics since 1997. He was described by the New York Times as an “underground restaurateur, impresario and provocateur.” He believes that the dinner table is one of the most effective (and overlooked) vehicles for changing the world.

Michael’s creative agency One Pot specializes in the technology of the common table, seeking to shift culture by using thoughtful food and discourse-based engagements and happenings. One Pot has worked closely with thought leaders and cultural leaders and many preeminent foundations an institutions including the Republic of Gabon, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, the X Prize Foundation, the FEED Foundation, Architecture For Humanity, and the Summit Series.

Why Dinner?

The dinner table is the most forgiving place for difficult conversation. The ritual of breaking bread creates warmth and connection, and puts us in touch with our humanity. It offers an environment that is more suitable than the usual places we discuss end of life.

Frustrating Website — Not a Model to Follow

The Death Over Dinner website is incredibly frustrating. It is described as “an interactive digital platform linking UW masters program students with many national healthcare leaders.” What?

If  you use the link on the front page that says, “Get Started” you end up in a long string of screens that force you to make choices from menus about what you want to read, which video you want to watch, and which questions you want to ask. You make random choices to go to the next screen hoping for information. When you’ve gone through a seemingly endless number of screens, however, you are asked to sign up and then wait for a confirmation email that is not instant.  You wait because you want to enter the site and actually read something about death dinners.

When the email arrives, the information that you randomly selected is included in the body of an email that is in the form of a letter. You are supposed to use this letter to invite your friends to a death dinner. It is complete with homework. All that stuff I selected are things my guests are assigned to read and watch before coming to dinner. Educated and ready to talk.

Incredibly dumb in my opinion. I tried but I couldn’t even read the email. Who talks this way to their friends:

I would be honored if you would take the time to join me and [a few guests (or) add specific names] for dinner and to engage in this conversation. The folks at have created a series of three thoughtful conversational prompts for us to explore.

And there is no place to confirm anything. When you go back to the site, if you want to subscribe, you have to register again. And I suspect confirm again. I didn’t try it.

While I waited for the email I finally found the blog. The link is hidden in tiny symbols in the upper right hand corner. A tweet symbol, an envelope, a Facebook symbol, and, oh yes, three parallel lines. That’s the blog. For your benefit, here is the link to the blog:

Finally at the blog, apparently the only information on the site, you are greeted by the usual (and welcome) list of summaries of blog posts. Well enough, until you click through on one. I clicked through on How Doctors Die and was greeted by the same summary. When I clicked the “Keep reading here” link to get to the full post I was instead sent with no warning the New York Times to read an article called How Doctors Die: Showing Others the Way.

A website design that is an example of a noble idea gone awry when implemented by communications majors. The site is beautiful visually but a classic example of incredibly low usability. It reminds me of a Miss Manners request: Could we stop communicating and have a conversation?



NYTimes Reports: Women Do Not Die

In August of 2008 I began saving the obituary email alerts from the New York Times when I noticed that almost none were about women. Since the NYTimes is infallible and comprehensive to a fault, the only conclusion I could draw from this was that women do not die, at least, rarely.

This file now includes 1300+ email alerts that include links to an estimated 3000+ obituaries of which an estimated 99.9% are of men, assuming the Times has accurately assigned pronouns.

Preliminary statistical analysis reveals that compared to men, there are fields in which women never die and others in which they die in very small numbers. Women who marry famous men, for example, die far less the famous men they marry but far more than women who do not marry famous men. Men who marry famous women never die unless they are themselves also famous in which case the women are not mentioned and the men die of their own accord.

If a woman marries a famous man and is blonde, sings, and writes a book about the famous man, she is certain of death. Her obituary will be long and detailed, with pictures, often of her smiling admiringly at the famous man holding a copy of the book.

Being athletic is correlated positively with death, although women who win Olympic medals are much less likely to die than men who win Olympic medals, a significant portion of the women who die were Olympic athletes. Further analysis is required to determine if the medal metal influences death rates significantly but preliminary analysis shows that when women earn silver or brass medals their death rate falls to roughly zero. Men who win even one brass medal, still die at the same alarmingly high rate that heads of state, Nobel Laureates, and brothers of former United States presidents die.

Women who play football, basketball, or baseball do not die.

It also appears that when women do die, they die young because the only photographs on file at the New York Times show them full body with exuberant smiles in the unwise fashion choices that are characteristic of those under forty. When men die there are many photos of them on file showing them as mature and distinguished citizens, in suits, looking pleasant but serious, as shown in head shots. Since so few women die, however, this may be a statistical anomaly. More complex analysis is required.

This is very rich data; this report only skimming the surface. Due to other constraints on my time I am unable to do the analysis required to determine in what ways the New York Times could be more helpful to women. For example, given that women have reduced their death rate to 10%, could it go even lower if they avoided writing books, winning medals, assuming responsibility for parenting world leaders, having blonde hair, etc.

To aid in this cause, I am offering my files to anyone who would like to build on my research. Please email me and I will send them along.