A Refuge When Nobody Understands Your Loss
In October 2010, on a backyard deck in Los Angeles lit with string lights and flickering votives, Carla Fernandez served a pan of paella while four of her friends, strangers to one another, sipped from glasses of Tempranillo. The guests had something unusual in common. In recent years, each had lost a parent, an experience that brought alienation on top of grief: Few of their 20- and 30-something peers had a clue what it was like to have a parent die.
"Often when you talk about death, people give you that deer-in-the-headlights look," says Fernandez, whose father passed away five years ago. "That didn't happen at this dinner. There was an instant bond. We stayed up way past bedtime talking about loss, how it had woven its way into our lives." The group realized there must be young people in the same situation all over the country. And so The Dinner Party, a nonprofit that connects those who've experienced significant loss, was born.
The dinners are a welcome antidote to traditional support groups—"We've all been given cheesy grief books with a white dove on the cover," Fernandez says—because they value honest conversation above all else. (Their manifesto reads, "We will abstain from bullshit.") The goal is to encourage more open expressions of grief and foster discussion of the way that loss continues to impact everyday life.
"This is the DIY era," says Fernandez, "and people come to the table to discuss all the ways we heal ourselves, whether it's therapy or yoga. One size doesn't fit all." More than 65 Dinner Party hosts are now active in 18 U.S. cities, including San Francisco; New York; Honolulu; Washington, D.C.; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and Boulder, Colorado, as well as Toronto.
"It's not just about getting together and talking about loss," says cofounder Lennon Flowers, whose mother died during Flowers's senior year of college, "but finding a community that shares your story." The tasty food doesn't hurt either. Says Flowers: "I bring my mom's lemon-thyme cookies."