One of the most interesting and talked about trends that has come about in the last few years, especially among aging baby boomers, is something called a “Death Dinner”. As morbid as this may sound, it’s actually a vehicle that people are using to talk about subjects that, in most cases, are avoided like the plague.
Those subjects include the actual fact that, yes, we’re all going to leave this earth at some point but, more importantly, what will happen to the people that we leave behind. More precisely, these Death Dinners revolve around how to best prepare for the inevitable and make sure that the people that we love the most aren’t left with a financial mess when we’re gone. For baby boomers, those of us born between the year 1946 and 1964, it’s a topic that resonates quite soundly as we watch our parents pass away and began to stare our own mortality in the face.
The fact is, nearly 70% of American adults don’t have a “living will”, the legal documentation that details what we’d like to have done should we become completely incapacitated or suddenly pass away. As for Americans 65 and older, over 30% don’t have a Last Will & Testament that details what should happen to their money and other assets once they’re gone. The problem with this of course is that, if someone dies “intestate” or without a will, the family they leave behind can be thrown into a quandary as to who gets what, how much and when.
The sad fact is that humans tend to be very emotional when it comes to money and, in many cases, quite greedy. The problems that can start when a parent passes away can absolutely tear a family apart, something that most parents would be horrified to see if they were still around.
And so, in order to avoid this sad state of affairs, baby boomers around the country are getting together for dinner and talking about subjects that, admittedly, cause most people to not want to talk at all. And that’s really the point; when a person passes away they basically lose complete control over anything and everything they’ve ever had. Talking about how things could and should be done once they’re gone before they’re gone is the only way to have any semblance of control and make sure that what happens afterwards is in everybody’s best benefit.
Nan Schwartz decided to have her own Death Dinner and invited 16 of her closest friends and relatives to attend, including her seven-year-old granddaughter and her 73-year-old mother. They shared pizza and salad as well as their views on what they’d like to happen when their lives did finally come to an end. To lighten the mood Nan passed out fake mustaches for everybody to wear. Nan, who actually works in hospice care and sees people die on a regular basis, realized that the topic of death was still a big taboo around her home and her family and was keen on broaching the subject rather than staying mum.
One factor that has greatly changed in the last hundred years is that people are no longer dying at home with their families but in big, sterile and cold hospitals, usually after weeks or months of medical intervention to actually keep death at bay. 100 years ago life expectancies were much shorter, as well as the infant mortality rate, and the average person actually died at home with their family rather than in a lonely hospital bed surrounded by medical doctors and nurses who they barely knew. In some ways it was a much easier, and more natural, way to go.
In any case, one of the main reasons that people are getting together to talk about death, besides what they want to happen medically, is simply what will happen to their finances. They want to make sure that, once they’re gone, any money and assets that they might have are given to the people or organizations that they deem fit and that their families don’t end up squabbling for years over them.
It might be a little bit morbid and, for many people, a little bit upsetting but, in most cases, it actually makes a lot of sense to get together with family and loved ones and talk about death before you die. The simple and completely undeniable fact is that, once you’re gone, there’s absolutely no way that you’ll be able to come back and change anything.