Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death. No, this is not a review of Theater Charlotte’s dinner mystery entitled Wine, Chocolate & Murder (doors open at 6:30 on Saturday, February 15th), although I do hear that makes for a fun night out with your Valentine. This is going to be much more personal, and it’s my hope, that you will find it much more valuable. There is a social movement currently taking place which I think it is simply outstanding, and well worth discussing.
Are you familiar with TED Talks? If you are not, go to www.TED.com. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. It is a global set of live conferences (mini presentations) that promote “Ideas Worth Sharing”. You can find extremely interesting presentations, no longer than 10-15 mins. in duration, given by thought provoking individuals on a very wide array of topics. Its popularity has spawned other TED Channels, one of which is TED MED (www.TEDMED.com) solely focused on health and medicine. It is on this particular site that I came across “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk about Death”, presented by Michael Hebb back in April of 2013.
Michael’s underlying idea is to bring people together to “break bread” and “spark social change”, and in doing so create deep and meaningful engagement and profound relationships. The idea for Let’s Have Dinner came to him during a chance meeting of two physicians during a train ride from Seattle. It was revealed to him that 62% of bankruptcies occur due to end of life medical care and its subsequent expenses. In fact, 43% of Medicare recipients spend more than their total assets – out of pocket – on end of life care. He also discovered that 75% of Americans want to die at home, when only 25% actually do.
These alarming factoids shared during this random conversation prompted him to start a movement where people, whether it be family or friends, gather over dinner to discuss their own thoughts, ideas and wishes for their “end of life”. This movement has now exploded globally and is gaining great praise. Just in the last few weeks, it has been featured in USA Today, the Huffington Post, LA Times, Boston Globe and the Wall Street Journal. A more in-depth look into this idea, and even a step-by-step dinner planning guide for those that would like to host one of these dinners, can be found online at www.deathoverdinner.org.
As a financial planner this topic, this idea, struck a chord with me on many levels. First and foremost, “planning” is what I preach. Being forward looking and not leaving things to chance is the foundation of how a good financial planner should consult. Having a conversation like this, about one’s final wishes or end of life care is also fundamental in any estate planning. The problem is, this conversation is seldom held, not even with a physician let alone a financial planner. Worse yet, it is rarely ever held with those that are most impacted by ones death – their loved ones – their own spouse and their children.
It also struck a chord with me on a very personal level. Three years ago my sisters and I were faced with what is probably the most heart-wrenching decision ever put onto a child when our mother was put into a medically induced coma. Her body was shutting down and there was nothing any doctor, any medical treatment or any surgery could do to heal her. We never had the “end-of-life” conversation with our mother, but by the grace of God, she had put an Advanced Medical Directive in place. She had made the decision for us for her to forgo being kept alive by artificial means so that we wouldn’t have to make it.
Further, she had even created somewhat of a Holographic Will or set of instructions which stated exactly how we were to handle her remains, what funeral home would handle it, and where she was to be buried. In fact, she even listed what Hymns she wanted to be sung at her funeral, what songs she wanted played, and what Bible passages she wanted read. If there was any comfort that accompanied the passing of our beloved mother, it was the peace of mind for me and my sisters that we fulfilled her final wishes exactly as she had wanted. Words cannot express, to this day, how meaningful that was to all of us.
A 2012 survey revealed that 82% of people believe that it is important to put wishes for their final days in writing, yet only 23% have followed that task through to completion. That is truly a shame, because my sisters and I know first-hand how important that one little document can be during such a difficult time. Let’s Have Dinner sets the platform for one to verbalize their truest thoughts and wants about life AND death which can then allow for questions and more in-depth discussion. Having this conversation with those closest to you is a must. Just think how emotionally rewarding it would be for everyone involved, not to mention how practical and valuable from a planning standpoint.
I truly believe that all good planning begins with the end in mind, but it seems as though how we end our lives is one of the most important conversations that Americans are NOT having. Maybe we can all help to forward this movement and give sincere thought to hosting your own “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk about Death” dinner party, or at minimum, simply have this important conversation with those whom we love.
As seen in Society Charlotte Magazine – February 2014, written by Edward R. Doughty, CFP®
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