We’ve gotten surprisingly good at avoiding the one topic we all have in common — the fact that life isn’t forever, and that we’ll someday, if we haven’t already, be faced with losing someone we love.
What we’ve learned, after thousands of people have sat down at hundreds of capital The Dinner Party tables, isn’t that people don’t want to go there. We very much do. We just haven’t had access to a place that invites us past the awkwardness, the discomfort, or the fear of not knowing what to say. Where “going there” isn’t a conversation stopper, but the conversation starter. A place outside of the sometimes cold and institutional shadow of the medical world —one that can lack the humanity that it works so hard to save — and instead, into a spaces that feel comfortable, provocative, and invite the kind of soul-stirring conversation that makes you want to stay awhile.
When OpenIDEO announced their End of Life Challenge, and the ensuing Re:Imagine: End of Life week in San Francisco, our team collectively fist pumped. We were thrilled to see the human centered design world contributing to the conversation around end of life, and in their words, “honor, celebrate, and improve our audience’s relationship to living and dying.” By putting up a beacon to a community that values creativity, innovation, and thoughtful design, we knew some really interesting experiences and connections would be sparked, bringing a new burst of energy, ideas, and attention to not just how we die better, but in turn, how we live better, and how we show up better for one another.
From October 24–30th in 2016, we joined a lineup of artists, storytellers, healthcare professionals, innovators, and designers to explore living, dying, and life after. Through the week, the public experienced how technology (i.e. VR, wearables) can play a role in our evolving relationship to death. We listened to performances from musicians and comedians around their experiences with loss, learned practical information about preparing for end of life that is too rarely discussed, and even took a stroll through a candlelight labyrinth.
On Day 3, our community hosted our biggest Dinner Party to date, with a 100 person gathering at The Here Collective in The Mission. Our core community sat down with first-timers to share stories about people we’ve loved and lost, and in true Dinner Party fashion, connect on what our relationship to that loss is like in the present tense. Whether a significant loss was experienced 6 months, or 16 years ago, there’s more often than not something happening in real time that’s colored by that relationship. Relinquishing the misconception that grief is linear and time-bound allows us to embrace this sentiment from poet W.S. Merwin: “Your absence has gone through me like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color.”
We all cheersed to the creation of spaces to honor not just the fact that people have died, but the fact that people were once very much alive, and to celebrate the hopefulness of having community throughout the highs and lows of life after.
Thanks to Jackrabbit Catering, Heller Wine, The Here Collective, OpenIDEO and our entire Bay Area community for helping create such a special evening.