Ever tried casually chatting about death at a dinner party? If so, you’ll know death can be a conversation-killer because people think you’re morbid. Death is still a taboo subject around many dinner tables. Yet research from the Australian Centre for Health Research (ACHR), shows about 70% of us want to die at home but only 14% actually do, indicating we need to become better communicators about our end of life wishes.
So where can we talk openly and freely about death? Death Over Dinner, an international and now national campaign, has been adapted by my employer, Adelaide Cemeteries Authority, to encourage people to talk frankly about death in all its forms. So far this year we have hosted two Death Over Dinner events at the historic West Terrace Cemetery where the conversation unashamedly focused on death.
Death Over Dinner – Friday 10 Feb 2017
7:00pm-11:30pm, Cost $55
The sweltering late afternoon heat did not deter our 60 guests from attending their first Death Over Dinner event. Tickets had sold out in a staggeringly fast 48 hours! We only promoted tickets on our Facebook page. An inviting alfresco setting down Row 2 in West Terrace Cemetery, bordered by historic headstones, provided an ambient venue. Cafe umbrellas shaded funky tables and chairs crafted from recycled pallets. Over-sized, colourful beanbags adorned the area in front of the stage. As the sun set, guests were served drinks by our amazing team of volunteers and enjoyed authentic tasty Sri Lankan street food, including Kadala and Kottu.
Michelle Jewels-Parsons was our indomitable MC for the evening. Michelle is a passionate public speaker, informed by her extensive service within the Funeral Industry as a Celebrant, Hospice Volunteer and Funeral Director. She introduced our eclectic panel:
- Major Darren Cox from the Salvation Army. After a successful career as an international environmental consultant he entered Theological College in 1998. Darren took up his first Church appointment in 2000 in England and moved to Adelaide in 2012. He currently leads the Salvation Army Church in Gawler.
- Father Peter Zwaans is a Catholic priest belonging to the Archdiocese of Adelaide. He has served in the parishes of Hectorville and Tranmere for the past five years. After completing a bachelor’s degree in commerce he entered the seminary and completed his studies for the priesthood in Sydney and Rome.
- Giani Kuldeep, is the Head Priest of the Sikh Society of South Australia ready to share with us the death and bereavement customs from the Sikh culture.
“How do u want to remembered?”
Michelle had done her homework and kept the conversation flowing with a series of thought-provoking questions for the panelists that drew in the audience.
Cremation or burial? What is your choice?
As the social media coordinator for the evening, I facilitated the roving microphone for the audience and posted the questions on our Facebook page. People who had missed out on tickets were still able to be part of the event. The question, Cremation or burial – what is your choice?, generated a fast and furious discussion, both online and at the event:
- I always wanted to be cremated. However, I’m now leaning towards a natural buried
– buried in only a shroud, no embalming chemicals, and eventually turned into a tree. I don’t like the thought of my body being pumped full of chemicals, placed into a box that is not likely to disintegrate. For me it’s about returning to the earth. Having said that, I’m not entirely sure. I also like the idea of being cremated and sprinkled over my favourite forest. [Bek]
- Natural burial for me [Amanda]
- I want to be cremated [Sheral]
- Cremation for sure [Mark]
- I always thought burial, but now I want to be cremated and my ashes scattered in my favourite forest. I want to be free to blow around like dust in the night. [Rhiannon]
- Cremated.. the sooner I can return to the earth the better [Julia]
- I want to go into a tree pod. They put you into the fetal position and put you into a giant seed pod and plant you into the ground and tree grows out of you. You feed it and make it grow. [Lucille]
- Sounds like what I did with a couple of my chickens that died a few years ago, buried them next to a tree.. may they live on ☺ [Julia]
- Thats so beautiful!! 🙂 I am going to do the same thing when my cats pass. [Lucille]
- I’m thinking natural burial too. With limited tenure on gravesites I don’t want my loved ones to have the worry of huge fees down the track just to keep me. Not keen on the idea of cremation. [Kelly]
- Cremation like mum [Bernie]
- Not sure but don’t want a funeral of any kind. Just want to be collected and disposed off. [Trevor]
- Cremated then shoved into fireworks. .. send me off with a bang [Alyson]
- I had always thought cremation but since doing my family tree and spending many hours headstone hunting. I have now decided on a burial. [Julia]
- Cremation. My only chance to have a smokin’ hot body. [Ashley]
- I may be 21, but I’ve always wanted to be buried in a cemetery like West Terrace. There’s just something about the cemetery that feels like a walk through the art gallery when ever I visit, and if I do get buried there, then I can view the art works forever 😍 [Alex]
- Stuffed and mounted on the couch [Belinda]
- Natural Funeral. In line with my pagan beliefs. My father wants a funeral pyre and is not ammused the FDA will not allow one.. good thing we will be in control of that.. he can be cremated and we will release him into the wind. [Rosemary]
What happens at the moment of death?
Giani Kuldeep explained that Sikhs celebrate death as a journey where the soul meets God. “There is no crying, no anniversary, no open grieving.” When a person dies, Sikhs cremate the body and chant prayers for 48 hours. Death is sad but the sadness comes from the attachment felt towards the person who died. The final prayer gives peace to the soul and ends the attachment for the living to the dead.
Once darkness entombed the cemetery, the award-winning Night Tour began. Guests were treated to a spectacular light and sound show. Actors brought the dead to life. With only the soft glow of our lantern to light the way, and the eerie shadows of the monuments looming at every step, we were guided on an intriguing journey through good and evil, passion and reason, and the vices and virtues that are part of the human condition.
As we explored the cemetery we meet a host of dubious individuals, larrikins, eccentrics and mysterious figures. Their stories are so baffling, so bizarre and so callous that they will resonate in our minds long after the lanterns dimmed at the end of the night.
It was a good night. I learned some things about burial options I didn’t know were available. Interesting to hear the Sikh view. [Coralie]
An excellent, informative, thought provoking, interesting and fun nite – amazing work from all involved – thank you! [Loretta]
What an awesome night. [Susie]
Fabulous and informative night. Loved the food also. Please let us know when the next Death over Dinner is Some friends missed out and would like to go. [Helen]
Death Over Dinner: End-of-life Edition – Friday 28 April 2017
6:00pm – 9:30pm, Cost $55-$75
A second Death Over Dinner event was hosted just 11 weeks later after the sell-out success of the first event. We had another full house despite a few drops of rain and a chilly evening of just 13 degrees. A cosy marquee with heaters warmed our guests unlike the sweltering heat endured during the first event.
Our Death Over Dinner theme this time was on ‘End-of-life’ matters. Our dynamic and entertaining panel of experts in the ‘End-of-life’ field started the conversation. The audience enjoyed drinks served by our Volunteers and tasty paellas served by Taste of Spain.
Our panel included:
- Robert Pitt, CEO Adelaide Cemeteries Authority,
- John McMahon, Palliative Care SA and
- Tracey Watters, CEO Palliative Care SA.
Our MC, David Brownie, mediated a lively panel discussion raising many thought provoking issues that led to enthusiastic audience participation and discussion. The conversation focused on death, dying and end of life planning.
The evening ended with our award-winning Night Tour. There are thousands of stories buried in the graves at West Terrace Cemetery. A few of these tales are brought to life in an entertaining light and sound show. Guests are guided through the tombstones with just a lantern to light their way through the shadows of history.
Thanks for a great evening! [Bek]
Great evening again. Will there be a 3rd one? [Trevor]
Host your own Death Over Dinner event
Hosting a Death Over Dinner event for my friends is what I am doing this year for Dying To Know Day. With Dying To Know Day fast approaching on 8 August, why not host your own Death Over Dinner event for your family and friends.