Our mission: To transform life after loss from an isolating experience into one marked by community support, candid conversation, and forward movement.
Through beautiful, unstructured dinner parties hosted by friends for friends, we invite those who’ve experienced significant loss - whether a parent, partner, child, sibling, or friend - to dive into long-tabooed territory, sharing a defining part of ourselves that rarely sees the light of day. Together, we’re pioneering tools and community through which young people who’ve experienced significant loss can use their shared experience as a springboard toward living better, bolder, and more connected lives.
We're well aware that combatting the isolation that so often comes with loss can not be done solely behind closed doors. That's why we're also working to tackle widespread cultural taboos, and to create spaces and tools through which those who have yet to undergo the experience can learn to be better friends or partners to those who have.
The end goal? We foresee a day in which Dinner Parties are as pervasive as AA meetings, and as culturally acceptable and readily accessible as yoga and meditation classes: a day in which young people who have experienced loss are recognized not as objects of pity, but as better listeners and better leaders, characterized by profound empathy, resilience, and agency.
Let's do dinner, shall we?
In late 2010, five of us sat down to dinner in a Los Angeles backyard. Connected by one degree of separation, we found what we were looking for in one another: people who could validate the intensity and significance of an experience we otherwise shut away, who could reflect openly on "life after," and who were using their experiences to springboard into richer, more honest, and more open-hearted lives.
That first dinner led to monthly dinner parties. Soon, we five became six, and soon after that, friends and friend-of-friends were asking to join. Our table in Los Angeles grew to include Dinner Party circles in San Francisco, Washington, DC, and New York City. What had begun as a casual gathering of friends became a quest to reimagine and reinvent "grief support," and the very way we conceive of and talk about loss.
- How do I know if The Dinner Party is right for me?
- Where can I find a table?
- Why are you focused on 20- and 30-somethings?
- I'm over age 40. How can I get involved?
- Is this a grief group?
- Is The Dinner Party an alternative to therapy or other forms of grief support?
- Are TDP hosts trained professionals?
- What happens at a Dinner Party?
- Are there any rules?
- Do you only talk about grief and death and sad stuff a Dinner Parties?
- How do I host my own?
- Are there any other resources you recommend for life after loss?
1. HOW DO I KNOW IF THE DINNER PARTY IS RIGHT FOR ME?
- I’ve experienced significant death loss, whether a parent, sibling, partner, child, or close friend and was among the first in my peer community to experience that kind of loss (**while we understand that loss takes many forms (i.e. break ups, divorce) we do not currently have the capacity to meet needs outside of death or physical loss**)
- I understand that I’m joining a community of mostly 20- and 30-somethings because this is an age group that is typically underserved by the traditional grief community -- too old for youth grief support and too young for traditional grief support groups where attendees are often older.
- I have support beyond the Dinner Party and am not relying on TDP as a replacement for therapy
- I’m looking to build community with others who have experienced significant loss, including a commitment to meet at least quarterly (4x) in the next year
- Although grief is an impossible-to-predict rollercoaster and ghosting is very much a part of our current culture, I understand that part of my commitment in joining a TDP table is to be responsive to my volunteer host, who has also experienced significant loss themselves. If I’m no longer interested in being part of my table, I understand that it is my responsibility to communicate that openly and transparently with my host and that I will be met with the utmost empathy and understanding in return.
- I understand that the Dinner Party will not tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, antisemitism, Islamophobia or any other form of discrimination at the table. I understand that, in joining a table, I am also committing to contributing to an environment that is inclusive for all.
- I agree.
2. WHERE CAN I FIND A TABLE?
Depends. We have tables in more than 100 cities and towns across the world (see active cities map to see where). If we have seats available, we’ll connect you to a host straightaway.
If all tables are full or we don't yet have a host in your area, we’ll let you know what your options are moving forward. One thing that we’ve discovered over the last few years is that trying to make a table work when there aren’t enough people invested in a location can leave people feeling more isolated after loss rather than less so if we reach out and let you know that we can't connect you to a table, please know that that's why!
Want in? Click here to reserve a seat.
3. WHY ARE YOU FOCUSED ON 20- AND 30-SOMETHINGS?
First, we've found that there's a unique kind of isolation that comes when you are among the first in your peer group to lose a parent, sibling, partner, child, or close friend. Before we sat down for our first dinner party, each of us believed that we were alone. Our friends, while supportive, didn't know how to relate. We had no examples in our peer group to help us discern if what we were feeling was normal -- or to talk to about the questions at the intersections of our age and loss experiences: When do I tell the person I met on Tinder that my mom died? I’m trying to build my career, but I’m not at my best because I’m distracted by the loss of my brother -- what do I do?
Each of us found that our losses had a major role in shaping who we are, precisely because they occurred when we were so young and just beginning to make our mark on the world.
The second reason is that 20- and 30-somethings are typically underserved by the traditional grief community: it is not unusual for a 25-year-old to go to a grief support group and be the only person under 50 present. As 20-somethings ourselves at the time of our founding and as a staff team that remains tight on resources and capacity, we are acutely aware that we cannot serve every person who experiences significant loss (that is to say, almost every person in the world). But we know a lot about how to provide peer support for a group of people who would not otherwise meet and for whom there are not very many other resources that exist so we focus on doing that -- and trying to do it damn well.
4. I'M OVER AGE 40. HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED?
Losing someone you love can leave a profound impact at any age. And in this death-denying culture of ours, all of us struggle to find spaces where we can talk openly about that experience.
However, this is also a bit of a complicated question for us here at TDP. As a staff team that remains tight on resources and capacity, we are acutely aware that we cannot serve every person who experiences loss (that is to say, almost every person in the world), but we also know that the difference between a 39 year old and a 41 year old is arbitrary. One of our goals is to connect people who are among the first in their peer group to experience significant loss so if you fit that description, go ahead and apply!
However, please know that we’ve found that that the best tables emerge when Dinner Partiers are in a similar life phase or chapter of life. Age is only one part of this equation (we consider factors like neighborhood/ location, the who/how/when of the loss, interests/passions outside of the table), but it is a factor. If we have a table where, all things considered, we think you would be a good fit as a human being, we’ll go right ahead and connect you. However, if the only table in your area is a group of early 20-somethings who don’t share your interests or reflect your loss experience, we may not connect you until the moment a “better fit” emerges.
Re: "aging out" of the Dinner Party -- community is the name of the game here so if you’re already part of a table community, it doesn’t matter how old you are. You're good to go for as long as you want to be a part of it!
5. IS THIS A GRIEF GROUP?
No. There are lots of highly trained people who are expert in handling trauma and working with the bereaved, and we’re not trying to replace them. This isn’t about fixing, or advice-giving, or even coaching. It’s not really even about grieving, at least not in the traditional sense. While some folks around our tables identify as actively grieving, many of us have moved into that nameless space we've come to simply call, "life after," recognizing that loss continues to color our lives in real and profound ways, even if we've long since adjusted to a new normal. We’re interested in creating accessible spaces where you can “speak your truth” with peers---or more to the point, friends. None of us are qualified to tell someone what they need, as we're all still trying to figure out that answer for ourselves. We've been known to trade therapist recommendations around the table, and encourage everyone at our tables to find their own self-care practices, whatever they may be.
6. IS THE DINNER PARTY AN ALTERNATIVE TO THERAPY OR OTHER FORMS OF GRIEF SUPPORT?
Dinner Parties are definitely not a replacement for other modes of healing or self-care. They're about building a family of friends around the experience of loss, and are not a silver-bullet for making loss easy (if we stumble upon said silver-bullet, we promise to alert the press). But in the meantime, we think therapy - and other means of healing, like exercise, art, music, are really awesome tools - and that Dinner Partiers far and wide should keep exploring what works best for them. Dinners are really the time to come together and share what we’ve learned along the journey. Check out our rituals page for examples of what other Dinner Partiers found helpful along the way.
7. ARE TDP HOSTS TRAINED PROFESSIONALS?
No. Dinner Parties are created for and by friends. We see ourselves as a complement to, not a replacement for, the other places you can go to see a professional - therapy, grief counseling, even spin class. For us, we’ve found that real life experience can be the best form of expertise. While we offer in-person and online trainings for hosts, there is no script, and the host is every bit as much a participant as everyone else. We’ve found that’s the best way to keep things casual, fun, and personal. And when everyone has only their own story to go on, it means we’re all equally “expert”: we’re less prone to advice-giving, or attempts to “fix” something, recognizing that what most of us are looking for is a chance to hear and be heard, and to identify with others who’ve been there.
8. WHAT HAPPENS AT A DINNER PARTY?
No two Dinner Parties are ever alike, but here’s the general gist:
- Plan: The local hosts pick a date and finds a place to hold the dinner - someone’s backyard, or a park, or a kitchen table. They then send out an invitation to their fellow Dinner Partiers to save the date.
- Prep: The day of, the hosts spend some time making the location feel a little special - hanging up some lights, busting out the candles, making little party favors, or whatever other creative pursuit gets them excited (cue: Pinterest). As with any potluck among friends, everyone cooks a dish.
- Arrive: When partiers arrive, we usually hang out, catch up, make some cocktails.
- Dinner: After we sit down for dinner and plate up, the host kicks off the conversation by reminding everyone of the guidelines. We then go around the table to do quick updates on what’s on people’s minds - maybe about a holiday, or a great movie someone saw, or the advice they wish the could ask of their loved one. After that initial round, we just jump into a natural conversation. No structure, rules, or anything beyond that - the host helps facilitate the conversation to keep it moving.
- After: Someone keeps their eye on the clock - because these conversation have been known to go late into the late. Everyone helps clean up, then heads out into the night - looking out for their next dinner party invitation.
For more on how it works, download our free Hosting Guidebook.
9. ARE THERE ANY RULES?
There aren’t set rules for dinners, but we start off all dinners with these guidelines:
- Be non-judgmental of yourself and others. Avoid filtering yourself, and don’t feel as though you should or shouldn’t be feeling something at any given moment. Your experience is yours and please honor and respect that others’ is theirs.
- Being here is participating. You are, at no point, under pressure to talk. We welcome silence just as much as we welcome sharing. When you speak, do so intentionally, and know that here, there’s no such thing as an awkward silence.
- All conversations are confidential. While The Dinner Party isn’t a secret society, it helps participants to know that the intimate stuff they may want to share won’t be passed along the grapevine. We take the Vegas approach, and ask that what happens at The Dinner Party stays at The Dinner Party. Hosts might discuss themes and anecdotes from dinners with Dinner Party HQ to improve the overall experience, but no direct names will be used.
For more info on what happens at a dinner, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or download our Host Toolkit.
10. DO YOU ONLY TALK ABOUT GRIEF AND DEATH AND SAD STUFF AT DINNER PARTIES?
Negatory. While it's true that we always keep tissue boxes handy, our conversations tend to run the emotional gamut--oftentimes within a single dinner. Through Dinner Party conversations, we’ve found that the big lessons we took away from the loss of a loved one are not so much about death, but really about how best to live. Through loss, we’ve all received the memo, in a really visceral way, that life is temporary, and that living well is a choice we can all make. Lots of Dinner Parties are about our relationships as siblings, friends, or partners. They’re about the career change we want to explore, or the art project we want to make, or the road trip we’re planning this summer. The experience of death is a jumping-off point for a conversation about how we’re living - with people who understand our frame of reference.
11. HOW DO I HOST MY OWN?
We’re so glad you asked! We love having Dinner Parties, and think you and your friends will too. To learn how to host, check out our brief overview guide on hosting here and you can apply to host here!
Please note that one thing we’ve discovered over the last few years is that trying to make a table work when there aren’t enough people invested in building a community can leave people feeling more isolated after loss rather than less. So if you apply to host through us and we don't onboard you right away (or offer you other options of how to be involved in our community instead), please know that that's why!
12. WHAT OTHER RESOURCES DO YOU RECOMMEND FOR NAVIGATING LIFE AFTER LOSS?
Take a look at some of the rituals and practices for navigating life after loss that have surfaced across our tables here. Also:
A few quick-ish reads we’ve loved :
- The Long Goodbye, Slate, Meghan O’Rourke (A series of nine articles that ran a few years back, each pulled from O’Rourke’s book by the same name. Our fave entry: “Hamlet’s Not Depressed, He’s Grieving”)
- A New Normal: Ten Things I’ve Learned About Trauma, Sojourners, Catherine Woodiwiss
- In Grief, Try Personal Rituals, The Atlantic, Emily Esfahani Smith
If you’re actively grieving & looking for support, check out:
- ModernLoss (in particular, see their list of grief support providers)
- Refuge in Grief
- Hope After Project
- Light After Loss
- Hello Grief
And if you’re into Twitter, these folks are worth a follow.
We get that all of our stories are different, and what works for one may not work all. At the end of the day, find what feeds you.