Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another. To follow, please leave your email address.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Grief Dinners

What if you threw a potluck dinner for friends, and everyone who came was grieving? Cool, right!

Well, cool if you had lost someone, because there is little support in society for those who are grieving. Otherwise, you might look for an excuse.

An organization called “The Dinner Party” invites people who are grieving to potluck dinners. Gatherings have been hosted in cities across the country. Currently there are 140+ tables in more than 60 cities, with a few smaller towns in the mix.

This is not grief therapy; it’s grief support.

It’s about providing desperately needed support and encouragement to people when the world begins crashing down and despair deepens. The death of someone we dearly loved rips a hole out of the middle of us, and we are fighting to hold on as the edges of life continue to fray around us.

The idea of The Dinner Party is to provide a place where people who are experiencing their first significant loss can share their stories with others who understand. Your loss can be a parent, sibling, partner, child or close friend. Those who gather are often in their 20s and 30s, because they are the first in their social group to lose someone and their friends have no clue what to do to help. People end up feeling abandoned in grief without anyone to talk to.

The hosts try to match people with similar interests, passions, and stages in life. They also have tables for folks over the age of 45, and a few tables that are intergenerational by design. Lasting friendships often form at the dinners.

The organization began in 2010 when five women in Los Angeles, who had each lost a parent, met for dinner in someone’s backyard, and talked about their individual journeys with grief. They found it so helpful that they began hosting dinners in other places. Their mission is to “transform life after loss from an isolating experience into one marked by community support, candid conversation, and forward movement.”

In the larger cities, there is someone who coordinates the gatherings. If you’re in one of these cities, and would like to come to a dinner to see if it’s right for you, look at its website for contact information: http://thedinnerparty.org. You can also host your own dinner, and the website offers guidelines to help.

I haven’t been to a dinner, but I have been on a grief retreat with 24 people, where for five days we talked about grief non-stop. Before we met, we had been introduced to each other through the Internet and in the 30-day grief-writing course at Refuge in Grief.

Each morning before dawn, I would make tea in the kitchen and ready myself for the day. Often JoAnne or Leslie would join me and we would talk about where we were in grief and what we do when we feel stuck.

Throughout the day there were various group gatherings, time to talk to each other at meals, and time to be alone to walk in the woods and process what was going on. There was no judgment made about each other’s grief, just acceptance, sharing, and encouragement. Late at night, George and I would discuss the thoughts and emotions that had been stirred up during the day, as well as about non-grief matters like cooking and our fathers.

Being in a place where we could see each other’s face, where we could hug, made a big difference. By hearing others talk about their grief, I better understood my own. And by taking the risk, I found community.


  1. It does help so much to be face-to-face--especially a lip-reader like me--but I'm a mess at dinner parties because of hearing loss. Still, I want to keep offering bereavement support despite hearing challenges, so I'm teaming up with other hospice trained bereavement support people to offer new things. This summer, we'll offer a workshop combining ritual and meditation with plenty of time to share stories and interact. These small things help.

  2. That sounds wonderful, Elaine! All four aspects. Grief impacts us on so many different levels, and some are hidden from us most of the time.