When I told my therapist that I was reading this book and what it was about she was thrilled because, according to her, I needed to adjust my own attitude toward death. Suffice to say Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner certainly succeeded in this purpose. Despite the universal truth that we are all going to die, death is rarely discussed with the depth and breadth that it deserves.
The premise of this book is to act as “an invitation and guide to life’s most important conversation”. The book begins with two introductory chapters that explain the premise of death dinners and is then followed by a series of prompts for participating in a conversation about death.
As with many nonfiction and self-help books, Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner does not precisely need to be read in order, as Hebb himself acknowledges in the introductory chapters. In a similar vein, the text does not need to be and should not be read all at once. In the introductory chapter the author warns that this book shouldn’t be read in one sitting, and I wholeheartedly agree. Usually, when I read a fiction book I speed through it and then once I know the ending go back and re-read parts that I have bookmarked. With nonfiction such as this I take much longer, and it can sometimes take me over a week to finish a slim volume such as this one. The sheer amount of powerful content makes this a book that takes time to digest. While the first two chapters of the text are traditional chapters, the majority of the book is formatted with sections starting with a question about death that functions as a prompt that one could ask at a death dinner. To supplement each prompt, the author included stories that people had shared at previous death dinners as examples of both how people can answer the prompt and how answering the prompt at their own death dinners had improved the lives of the people featured in each story.
I will whole-heartedly admit that this book caused me to cry a great deal (which was difficult when I read while on my way to work as I got many concerned looks on the subway) and yet I still enjoyed every moment of reading it. Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner made me cry not because of any fault with the text, but because the heavy emotion behind each of the stories tugged at my heartstrings so to speak, and any time that I saw anything of myself or those that I loved in the text, I empathized to an uncomfortable extent. Nevertheless, I did keep reading because the storytelling nature of the text is both compelling and well-written, and I simply did not want to stop at some points. That said, I did make sure to take breaks from my reading – part of why this review took so long to write – in order that I could process everything that I had read in terms of both understanding and settling some of the emotional turmoil within myself.
A major concern of the text is in discovering where our discomfort with death comes from. Avoidance compounds fear, and this text argues that sitting down over a meal and talking about what makes a good death, what we want for ourselves, and how we grieve is an incredibly useful and necessary experience. Not only is an open and honest conversation about death cathartic, but it has practical use in that we can discover the wishes of our loved ones in regard to how they want us to handle their own deaths.
I have to say that I have always been fascinated with death, in particular the impermanence of our existence and the all-encompassing fate that is the inevitable heat death of our universe. On a large scale, I talk about death and destruction in a deadpan voice all the time, but I rarely feel the emotion behind it, acting glib in the face of needing to express genuine emotion. This text forced me to engage with that emotion directly and to confront things I did not want to confront, such as what I am afraid of with regard to death. What I realized is that I am not afraid of non-existence, or even of physical pain at or toward the end, but rather I am afraid of the consequences of my absence and of what actions those who have known me will undertake after my death, as well as the emotional pain that the loss of others causes within my own self and how that pain influences my actions and thus affects those who remain around me in my grief. While I always knew that to some extent, the ability to talk about these emotions without reservation is a great gift that this text has given me.
This book probably isn’t for everyone. I know that, were I to read this at certain earlier points of my life, I would not have liked Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner, and I would not have gotten as much out of the experience of reading it. Nonetheless, I feel that for readers who approach this text with an open heart and an open mind, and give themselves time to process as they read, this text is an invaluable one. Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner will be released on October 2nd, 2018, and I highly suggest that y’all get a copy when it comes out!