Growing up with an undertaker in the family gives you a unique perspective on death. “My step-dad is a funeral director,” says freelance writer and food journalist Ruby Lohman, who along with kinesiologist Clare Woodward is co-founder of Death Dinner Party. “The first car I drove was a hearse,” she laughs. “I’ve had an exposure to death and dying and those issues that others have not had. And I’ve always found it interesting.”
Lohman and Woodward are starting a conversation around death that allows people to explore the topic in a comfortable environment. A Death Dinner Party consists of a three-course meal with two guest speakers focused around a particular topic, with themes including “when we are faced with death” and “what is death?”.
“People don’t have an opportunity to talk about this stuff. Particularly in Western culture. So of course everybody has questions and wants to talk about it,” says Lohman. Inspired by a “death dinners” trend in the US, hosted to discuss the plans and wishes for an individual’s own passing, Lohman and Woodward felt that there were bigger possibilities for the dinner-party forum. “People were talking about what they want when they die, getting their families together… But I couldn’t see anywhere people got together just to talk about death in an informative way.”
A pilot dinner proved successful and the first Death Dinner parties open to the public will be on June 20 and 27. Guest speakers range from a Tibetan Buddhist to a palliative-care worker and a gravedigger, each sharing a different perspective on death. Food is served to facilitate conversation and create a relaxed environment. “The food is not fine dining, but it is beautiful food that creates an environment that’s welcoming and warm and safe to have these conversations in,” says Lohman. “It will be a combination of nourishing, comforting and creative.” There'll be a focus on local and sustainable produce and lesser-used ingredients, like rooster.
For Lohman there is a fine balance between making the Death Dinners entertaining while still being sensitive to the varying experiences of death, and she stresses that while Woodward has a background in therapy, the dinners are not set up as a support group. Each Death Dinner Party will vary in size and location (beginning with dinner for 20 guests at Barthe House Gallery in Woolloomooloo), with Melbourne dinners planned for later in the year.
The next dinners will be held on June 20 and 27, tickets are $117. Bookings can be made via the website.