Death over Breakfast

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President of Teak Media, Jackie Herskovitz Russell, wrote an inspiring blog post about having “the conversation” with her family the morning after Thanksgiving.

It started with the requisite joke made by my Dad. “Bury me at Bloomingdale’s,” he said. “That way I know my daughters will visit me.”

Thanks for making it convenient for us, Dad! We appreciate your consideration.

If only end of life planning was that easy. But because it’s not, and there are many details to be worked out and agreed upon while all parties involved are still alive and lucid, my family took the morning after Thanksgiving to “have the conversation.”

Read the full blog post on the Teak website here. 

Death Over Dinner Press Release

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Top Chefs Help Break Bread & Taboos

Dining and Discussing Death in the New Year 

Seven Days, Two Organizations and One Conversation: A Movement to Encourage Meaningful Conversations about End-of-Life Care. Jan. 1-7

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. & SEATTLE, Wash. | Death as dinner conversation? You bet. Death Over Dinner and The Conversation Project are teaming up for a second consecutive year to launch a nationwide movement to encourage Americans to throw the most important dinner parties they’ll ever have.

The two likeminded public engagement campaigns, both of which educate people on the value of making decisions about their wishes for end-of-life care and expressing them to their loved ones, are inspiring a series of uplifting and interactive dinners to transform the seemingly difficult conversation about death into an intimate, shared experience.

During the week of Jan. 1 – 7, 2015 Seven Days, Two Organizations and One Conversation (#721) will encourage Americans to pick a date on which to fill their tables with comfort food, family, and friends and start talking about how they want to live the last days of their lives.

Both organizations believe that conversations about end-of-life care shouldn’t start with doctors, insurance agents, or in intensive care units when people are overwhelmed; they should start with family and friends while breaking bread. #721 provides the tools and tips to get the conversation started. Dinner party hosts choose the guests and the menu and let the wine and conversations flow.

To whet the appetite for the conversation, this year’s side dish is an ecookbook, “The Endless Table,” recipes from departed loved ones, available for download just in time for the holidays. Famous foodies like Tom Colicchio, Ina Garten, Ben Ford, Jasper White, Jody Adams, José Andrés, Roger Berkowitz, Michel Nischan and many more have donated recipes in honor of loved ones, along with stories about why the dish they chose is personally meaningful. The book will be available December 2014 for a nominal donation of $15, which will benefit both public engagement campaigns, The Conversation Project and Death Over Dinner.

“Memories and menus are bound together in our emotional makeup — whether it’s the hot dog at Fenway Park or the iconic turkey at Thanksgiving — we associate food with the people we love and those we have lost,” says Ellen Goodman, Pulitzer Prize Winning journalist and founder of The Conversation Project. “We hope people will celebrate life while talking about death. We know one conversation can make all the difference and good food and wine can make any topic more palatable.”

Materials provided by #721 include The Conversation’s Project’s Starter Kit, a step-by-step guide developed to help people have “the conversation” about their preferences for end of life care.  The guide is designed to be used by families, or by individuals, as a way to help them think about and communicate important end of life decisions. From how much information the doctor should share with the family, to which family member is to be the primary decision maker, the starter kit helps people think about situations and how they might address them.

“We hope those who join 721’s national dinner party remember their loved ones who have cooked for them by singing their praises and sharing their wisdom,” says Michael Hebb, founder of Death Over Dinner.  “Let’s all have this conversation and delve deeply into what it means to feast together. And, let’s live lives that people will celebrate after we have gone.”

Death Over Dinner works to bring people to the dinner table to create social change with the idea that dinners result in action and create deep engagement and profound relationships with participants. To date, Death Over Dinner has been the impetus for thousands of dinners held across the nation and abroad.

Last year more than 1,500 #721 dinners were held throughout the U.S. and the campaign drove more than 20,000 people to the organizations’ websites where they registered to host dinners and downloaded The Conversation Project’s Starter Kit.

Ninety percent of Americans say it’s important to talk about their end-of-life care wishes, yet 30 percent of people actually have that conversation. #721 is committed to changing our national culture from not talking about end-of-life care to talking about it – in thousands of kitchens, living rooms, coffee shops and restaurants across the country. For more information about #721, visit or

About The Conversation Project

The Conversation Project, co-founded by Pulitzer Prize-winner Ellen Goodman, launched in collaboration with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI,) and supported by Cambia Health Foundation, is a public engagement campaign with a goal that is both simple and transformative: to have every person’s end-of-life wishes expressed and respected. Too many people die in a manner they would not choose and too many of their loved ones are left feeling bereaved, guilty, and uncertain. The Conversation Project offers people the tools, guidance, and resources they need to process their final desires for their life and begin talking with their loved ones, in a comfortable setting, about their wishes and preferences. Have you had The Conversation? Learn more at:

About Death Over Dinner is an interactive website and cultural movement dedicated to giving people the permission and the tools to powerfully discuss end of life with their friends and loved ones. Created by Michael Hebb and developed at the University Of Washington Masters Of Communication Department in collaboration with interactive firm CIVILIZATION, has already inspired over 40,000 people to break bread and explore the many aspects of mortality, ageing, and the choices we face at the end of our lives.

2015 721 Press Release

Life and Death Matters

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In April this year my Dad passed away. I have been putting together a jigsaw puzzle since then and
now realize that so many people are in the same boat and many wouldn’t even know.
I have a simple idea that will save a lot of grief and heartache; a publication where your own
important details and wishes are enclosed and stored safely until required.
This planner and guide gives those left behind the answers they will initially need and after the event.

It’s not until you have experienced the loss of a loved one that you understand how important these details are.
What can be considered trivial at the time holds a lot of value when a family or individual are going through the grieving process.
This planner is much more than meets the eye. It is a personal informative guide that includes funeral, estate,
personal and medical information. I have had a goal to help people through the most difficult time of all by
preparing for something that we all have to face at one time or another.

PRESS RELEASE: Helping Parents Talk to Terminally Ill Children about End of Life

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                         CONTACT: Katie Stinchon (617) 269-7171

November 11, 2014                                                                                              


 Helping Parents Talk to Terminally Ill Children about End of Life


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. | A new Pediatric Starter Kit launched by The Conversation Project will help parents facilitate the critical and necessary conversation about end-of-life with their terminally ill children.


Research has shown that parents who talk about death with their children do not regret it – while many of those who do not talk about it regret not having done so. Medical literature and stories from the field show that children often sense that they are dying well before their care teams and families. Children don’t talk about it because they don’t want to upset, and feel an urge to protect, their parents.


Helping families overcome the communication barrier is the goal of The Conversation Project, a public engagement campaign with the mission to have everyone’s end-of-life care wishes expressed and respected.


At the heart of the project is the Conversation Starter Kit, a free downloadable step-by-step guide that helps adults have “the conversation” about their preferences for end-of-life care. Once the Starter Kit became widely used by adults, parents and pediatricians began contacting The Conversation Project to express the need for a guide specifically designed to help parents have the conversation with their seriously ill children, often not just once, but over time as the  disease progresses.


“For most adults, planning their own end-of-life care is difficult enough, let alone planning for the loss of a child.  It’s never easy, but we know how important this conversation is,“ says Ellen Goodman, founder of The Conversation Project. “We collaborated with parents, palliative care experts, and nurses to bring forth a guide to help ease parents into this delicate topic. There is no prescriptive, one-size-fits-all methodology, but rather multiple ways to begin and continue this conversation.”


The new Pediatric Starter Kit: Having the Conversation with Your Seriously Ill Child is now available for download. The Pediatric Starter Kit offers advice and provides stories from parents and palliative care specialists who have been there. It provides questions that can help parents navigate the approach to the conversation based on the personality and cognitive level of the child.


“No one wants children to die, but they still do,” says Dianne Gray, president of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation and a contributor of the Pediatric Starter Kit. “I understand it can seem unkind or cruel to talk to children about their own death, but it is not.” In 2005 Gray experienced the loss of her son, Austin, age 14, as a result of a neurodegenerative disorder.


“Though he was nonverbal the last five years of his life, we had developed a method of communication that worked for us,” says Gray. “Having those conversations with him was one of the most difficult, yet grandest acts of love that I could do for him. Knowing that he was a part of the decision making helps me feel such peace.” She now shares this message globally, as an advocate for pediatric palliative care via the International Children’s Palliative Care Network and the American Academy of Pediatrics Section of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.

The Pediatric Starter Kit provides suggestions and ways to navigate the conversation if a child or baby cannot speak.


“How parents and loved ones handle the end-of-life of a child can truly define that family going forward. Talking it through makes the impossible slightly less impossible,” says Blyth Lord, founder of the Courageous Parents Network and contributor to the Pediatric Starter Kit. “When your child has a terminal illness it becomes a part of the family’s narrative. Being prepared and having a plan can write the story of their child’s life so they can be at peace with the way it ended.”


Lord never got to have that conversation with her two-year-old daughter, Cameron, who died from Tay-Sachs, a degenerative disease. However, she credits her palliative care team for guiding her family through some of the most difficult decisions they’ve ever made.


“My husband and I had these conversations, practiced them with each other, and thought through every option with our pediatrician,” Lord says. “We would hear of families making these emergency decisions in the hospital, without time to think, and felt horrible for them. It’s hard to make a thoughtful decision in a crisis when you haven’t done the work.”


About The Conversation Project:

The Conversation Project, co-founded by Pulitzer Prize-winner Ellen Goodman and launched in collaboration with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), is a public engagement campaign with a goal that is both simple and transformative: to have every person’s wishes for end-of-life care expressed and respected. Too many people die in a manner they would not choose, and too many of their loved ones are left feeling bereaved, guilty, and uncertain. The Conversation Project offers people the tools, guidance, and resources they need to begin talking with their loved ones about their wishes and preferences, before a medical crisis – “at the kitchen table,” not in the intensive care unit.


Let Brittany Maynard’s story spark a dialogue about the end of your life

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The Washington Post- Co-founder of The Conversation Project, Ellen Goodman, writes an op-ed for The Washington Post about the tragic story of Brittany Maynard. She writes, “Maynard’s decision to control the ending of her own life is the story of one in 500. Why, I have wondered should we continually engage our energies and our anger over a debate that affects.2 percent. What about the 99.8?” (Goodman, The Washington Post). Ellen discusses the need to shift the national attention to conversations about end-of-life care–not assisted suicide.

Read the rest of the op-ed here.