Death Over Dinner, an event hosted in the West Terrace Cemetery, will bring food and death together to ensure mortality is an accessible conversation piece.
The concept, designed by Michael Hebb and Angel Grant, places death-related conversations in traditionally comfortable settings, such as the dinner table. In doing so, the founders hoped that death would be considered before it occurred. Conceived in the United States, Death Over Dinner has recently made a successful transition to Australia.
Adelaide’s first Death Over Dinner event was conducted in February, with the focus squarely on the role of faith in death. Located in the historic West Terrace Cemetery, the event sold out in 48 hours—a clear indication that this was a discussion Adelaide wanted to have.
“We found that once you engage people and you open up the dialogue on this, people want to speak about it and learn more about it,” says Adelaide Cemeteries Authority chief executive Robert Pitt.
After the success of the first event, Pitt reveals that feedback regularly pointed to a desire for more practical information. The upcoming Death Over Dinner is set to address this, with the theme being “End-Of-Life.”
Speakers on the night include Pitt, CEO of Palliative Care SA, Tracey Watters, and Coordinator for the Program of Experience in the Palliative Approach (PEPA) at Palliative Care SA, John McMahon.
“Tracy in particular has experience in working with people facing and confronting death, and with family and loved ones who also support people through that process,” Pitt explains.
Juxtaposing the melancholic surroundings of the cemetery is food catered by Taste of Spain, with an acoustic guitarist provided for “mood music” as people arrive.
Although Pitt has found success with the previous Death Over Dinner, he emphasizes the need for death to remain an intimate affair. “We’re cautious to make sure that it’s intimate enough for people to speak, hear and engage,” he states. “We find you have to limit the numbers because too many people lose the impact of those that are attending.”
With a rapidly ageing population—Australians over the age of 65 are set to comprise 25% of the population by 2042—Pitt acknowledges the need to embrace this discussion. In his experience people’s attitudes to death rarely exist in a conservative middle ground.
“We think about death and dying as either you’re an active accepter, that is you acknowledge you’re going to die at some stage, and you think about it and plan for it, or you’re a passive objector, that is you don’t want to engage with the topic at all.”
Adelaide Cemeteries Authority CEO Robert Pitt
It’s a testament to changing attitudes that Death Over Dinner has been met with such success, affirmed by Pitt’s own experience. “When I started in this industry 15 years ago, it was right at the end of the 30 minute service attended with Abide with Me [a hymn traditionally featured in funerals] and the priest and a fairly standard running sheet,” he says.
With curiosity piqued, a desire for events related to death will continue, although in markedly different guises. “In July we’d like to do life over lunch. It’s more things that you might want to do or get done before you have to think about death and dying, almost like a bucket list,” Pitt says.
When reminiscing about the first Death Over Dinner, Pitt distills the experience. “There is a terrific sense of place at West Terrace, being the oldest cemetery in South Australia,” he says. “Sitting in a bean bag as the sun goes down talking about death and dying over some food and wine – it was actually quite civilized.”
Death over Dinner will be held at the West Terrace Cemetery on Friday, April 28, at 6pm. Bookings can be made at aca.sa.gov.au