Are you prepared for death? Seattle man launches new website to make of end of life planning easier
Seven years ago, Seattle’s Michael Hebb launched Death Over Dinner through the University of Washington.
“With the very simple, but kind of ambitious idea to get people to talk about this taboo topic of end of life, of death, of our mortality,” Hebb said. “It scaled quite significantly; there have been more than one million death dinners since we launched seven years ago. That has been all word of mouth. People having powerful experiences, hosting their own dinners, and then sharing it with others. It’s become a bit of an international phenomenon.”
Based on that success, Hebb just launched a website called EOL.community in partnership with wellness brand RoundGlass.
“Its longer name is the End of Life Collective,” he said. “What we learned with Death Over Dinner is that people want to have this conversation, they don’t want to be in an insurance office or talking to an attorney or an oncologist. They want to be among family and friends. Once they’ve talked about their wishes, and their fears, and their goals, they want to do something. The resources for getting prepared to create an end of life plan were very thin and very scattered. So EOL was designed to be that one central place where you can get prepared and find providers and community and meet experts, et cetera.”
The website is free and offers everything from guidance on making a will and an advanced care directive to any other resource you would need to plan for your own death or to deal with a loved one’s passing.
“Whether that is a legal provider or insurance provider, or a palliative care provider if you’re at that point, we’ve made it very simple for the user,” Hebb said. “So you can find a grief therapist, an end of life doula, you can decide what you want to have happen to your body. Do you want to turn into a tree? Do you want to turn into a diamond? All of these things are now in one place, which has never happened before.”
There’s a “Death FAQ” page on the website, and each question has a tag, labeling it as “religion,” “philosophical,” “grief,” “legal,” or “terminal illness.” There are answers to hundreds of questions like, “What is an end of life doula?,” “How can I be less afraid of dying?,” and “What happens if I don’t have a will when I die?”
I have always assumed that end-of-life planning was for older people, or people with children, but Hebb says all adults should get prepared.
“I think we live in really interesting times. Before COVID, it was primarily people getting prepared as they were closer to their last chapter, or those of us on the fringe who are like, ‘Everybody should get prepared!,'” he said. “There’s a lot of terrible things that have come out of COVID, but one thing that I think is very positive is it now just seems sensible and rational for every average person to just have an end of life plan. It’s very clear that we don’t know. A death can happen in our family or our close circle of friends.”
Hebb started Death Over Dinner to remove the stigma of talking about death and to get families talking about this tough, uncomfortable topic. He says having the conversation and doing the actual planning is not as dark as you may think it is.
“It does make people feel more calm to have a simple plan. It does make people feel more anchored and centered,” he said. “It really is a great way to clarify what your priorities are, what matters most.”
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- Rachel Belle hosts the James Beard Award nominated podcast Your Last Meal and she's an Edward R Murrow award winning feature reporter. Follow Rachel on Instagram.