Talking About Talking About Death: A Movement Unto Itself

In the 1969 publication, “On Death and Dying”, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross advocated for the rights of the patient, declaring that each person had the right to receive compassionate care based upon one’s own wishes for his or her individual end of life journey. At the time, many patients didn’t know their prognosis, much less have a say in their individual care plans.  

According to Elisabeth’s son, Ken Ross, “she felt  “On Death and Dying” released a floodgate of pent -up need to discuss the subject of death and that most people, when afforded the opportunity, really wanted to discuss their own mortality, their own wishes for end of life.”

Michael Hebb, founder of “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death,” concurs.

“It’s a myth that people don’t want to have a conversation about choices available to them at end of life. They may not know how to get the conversation started or may not have been given invitation,” he said.

So Hebb set out to fix that. His “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death” project partnered with the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation and others, inviting people around the world to host their own dinners, believing that given the opportunity, people welcome the chance to talk about their own wishes for care at the end of life.  

The result? People in 15 countries hosted over 350 dinners on August 24, the anniversary of Kubler-Ross’ passing. Several hosts guided their dinners to a close after two hours as attendees didn’t want to leave. Many are hosting repeat dinners since they had such a great response,” said Hebb. 

That sentiment is echoed by Betsy Trapasso, host of Death Café LA. 

“While the topic is still considered uncomfortable for many, 

people are beginning to accept death as a part of life. We need to be able to express openly how we want to live until that event occurs,” she said.

Trapasso expects to host a total of sixteen Death Café events by year’s end.  “Complete strangers sign up for our events and we book solid within minutes. I have to turn people away constantly,” she said.

There is also great hope for a cultural shift of consumer consciousness amongst those at  “The Conversation

Project”, founded by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Ellen Goodman.

“Baby-boomers changed the way we give birth by becoming involved in the delivery room. They are now changing the way we die in America by becoming a part of the end of life decision making process for themselves and those they love, “ she said.

“The goal of the Conversation Project is to encourage families to have these important conversations early, before they enter into a healthcare crisis situation,” Goodman said. “It can seem too soon until it’s too late. We want to shift the conversation from what’s the matter with you, to what matters to you.”

Hebb and Trapasso agree. Now is the time for a shift in consciousness and apparently people are paying attention. Over 60,000 people have downloaded The Conversation Project’s, Conversation Starter Kit in the past year.

So while it may have taken forty years since the release of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ “On Death and Dying”, maybe, just maybe, we’re ready to talk about death, which is really, as these change-makers feel, just talking about life.