A reader-friendly guide to the conversations most people avoid having.
Hebb, whose day job involves hosting conversations about pressing topics over a nice nosh, serves up what a cynic might view as a brand-extension exercise here: “It is time to face the inevitable,” he urges, “and we need a grassroots movement—we need to face our mortality as a village, not as isolated individuals.” Doing so over the dinner table is one possibility. The author offers some helpful cues for conversation starters. “If you had only thirty days left to live,” he poses, “how would you spend it?” Some of the sample answers he returns are provocative: One fellow parses the time as both global and private, using part of it to see as much of the world and as many people as possible, part of it to withdraw into the cocoon of nearest and dearest. “What foods do you remember a departed loved one cooking for you?” he asks, offering the experience of the great chef José Andrés, whose signature paella conjures memories of an aspiring chef who died, too young, of brain cancer. Says Andrés, lyrically, when serving the dish, “I think of how lucky the angels in heaven are to have a chef like him.” As if anticipating the recent passing of John McCain, Hebb elicits conversations on how to plan one’s own memorial, though revenge is not part of the proceedings. With notes on the grieving process, the experience of death, and other tough subjects, the author closes with a list of books for further reading and resources for those willing to take on the hard work of asking those questions of loved ones—in, as he counsels, “an opt-in conversation” that one hopes will flourish rather than frighten.
With luck, a vade mecum that will make one’s reaping a bit less grim.