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Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / A Sept. 27 picture of the sign for Welcome Home Chattanooga, located on South Germantown Road.

The food was great, they said, but the dozen people gathered around the tables came for the conversation. They came to talk about death.

The guests at "Death Over Dinner" on Thursday night at Chattanooga WorkSpace discussed their experiences caring for dying loved ones and how they think about their own funerals. The conversations were designed to bring light to the often-taboo topic of death, said Sherry Campbell, executive director of Welcome Home of Chattanooga, the nonprofit that helped create the event.

In recent decades, people have moved the process of death and caring for those in their final days to hospital systems and nursing homes, rather than the process of dying being a family affair. This has created a disconnect between loved ones and the natural passing of friends and family, Campbell said.

Each course of the dinner included a prompt for the tables to discuss topics, such as what they think a "good death" is and who they would want to speak at their funeral.

Having a place to come and talk about a topic like death makes it easier to ask questions, Todd Gavin said. The table was a safe place to work through difficult topics.

"It's kind of hard to start these conversations with your golf buddies," he said. "But once you've had it 10 times, it gets easier."

Gavin said he has been thinking a lot about what it means to live a meaningful life before death.

During the dinner, each participant shared a story about a loved one who had died, then lit a candle in their memory. Some people at the table had friends or family who died suddenly, who died young. Others cared for their parents for years before they died.

More Events


*Welcome Home of Chattanooga is hosting more conversational events this fall, including:

  • Oct. 17, 6 p.m.: “Let’s Talk About Hospice” at Unitarian Universalist Church
  • Oct. 24, 6 p.m.: Death Cafe at Wildflower Tea
  • Nov 14, 6 p.m.: “Grief and the Holidays” at Hospice of Chattanooga Bereavement Center

People should not be afraid of death, said Annie Cox, who works part time at Welcome Home of Chattanooga. If people think ahead, they can have the death and funeral they want, rather than being scared, she said.

"I strongly want to support removing the taboo about talking about death and dying because it's universal to all and because it's universal to all it must be a blessing," Cox said.

Cox said she was inspired seeing new people at the event. Welcome Home of Chattanooga, a five-bedroom home for end-of-life care for people who do not have a place to go, has held similar conversation events in the past. The Thursday night event was held in partnership with The Chattery, a local education nonprofit.

Bill Fischer, who runs an end-of-life planning ministry, said educational events such as the dinner are helpful for people to know they are not alone in being scared about death or dealing with the deaths of loved ones. The conversations are important ones to have long before the day comes, he said.

From the reporter

I became a journalist to help people see people as people. But highlighting the human side of every policy decision, and how it is affecting your community, takes time as well as support from readers. If you believe in telling the stories of people in your community, please subscribe to the Times Free Press today. Contact me at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Find me on Twitter at @News4Mass.

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