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, 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 45. 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?
Have experienced significant loss, whether a parent, sibling, partner or close friend, and were among the first in your peer community to undergo that kind of loss;
Want a space to real-talk, and like the idea of doing it over a dinner with friends;
2. WHERE CAN I FIND A TABLE?
Depends. Do you live in one of our Hub Cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco, NYC, or Washington, DC)?
Yes: Awesome. We have multiple tables and extensive networks in each of our Hub Cities, which makes it easier to match folks to one another. If we have seats available, we’ll connect you to a host straightaway. If not, we’ll add you to our waitlist, and let you know as soon as a seat opens up.
No: No worries. We can’t make any guarantees, but we’ll let you know if others reach out looking to start a table in your area. We currently have hosts at the ready in Portland, Austin, Toronto, & Chapel Hill, and have heard from folks in 41 cities, so we may be able to connect you to folks sooner rather than later.
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 of significant loss when you are among the first in your peer network to undergo the experience. Before we sat down for our first dinner, each of us believed that we were alone. Our friends, while supportive, didn't know how to relate to the experience. We had no other examples to help us discern if what we were feeling was normal, and no mile-markers to see if we were on track. Each of us found that loss had had a major role in shaping who we are, precisely because they occurred when we were young, and just beginning to make our mark on the world.
Second, we see loss as a surprisingly powerful tool for community-building: surprising only because we generally work so hard to avoid talking about it. Our goal is to use loss as a door-opener to lasting friendships, and profound connections with people who can celebrate your good days, and stick with you through the bad. We find the relationships that last the longest are those where the connections run deep, so where possible, we like to match people with similar interests and passions, and to grow natural peer communities among people who are in a similar "life phase".
4. I'M OVER AGE 45. 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.
Our goal is to make it easy for anyone anywhere to sit down over dinner with people with a shared experience, and talk about subjects we otherwise keep under lock and key. The older you get, chances are the more people you know who've shared similar experiences of loss, though you may not have ever spoken about it. That's why we've created a set of downloadable tools and practices, honed over the course of dozens of dinners and lots of trial-and-error, that can help you break the ice, and host a successful dinner among people you know who are likewise navigating life after loss.
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. If you want to learn more, reach out to us, and we’ll give you the full scoop, from additional materials, to in person trainings to really perfect your Dinner Party hosting skills.
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.