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Supporter Spotlight: Michael Hebb

The Death Over Dinner founder launches End of Life Collective, an online platform created by RoundGlass to help address “how poorly we die in America.”

Michael Hebb has a way of bringing people together. Pioneer of communal dining — assembling mixed groups around a single table — at first for fun and later with purpose, he’s motivated by the power of connection. “Sometimes we design around what we know, and sometimes we design around what we didn’t get,” he says. “I would say for me, it was really that my childhood was missing community, and the majority of that was because of my father’s illness and death.” His father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when Hebb was in second grade and died when he was 13. “It really destroyed the level of connection in our family and extended family. There was a quality that was there before he got sick, and then it was gone. So I’ve understood from a very young age the importance of that, what it means to have it and what it means to have it taken away. So that has been an essential part of my work on this planet.” 

A conversation with two doctors on a “fateful” train ride from Portland, Oregon, to his home city of Seattle provided a new focus: “I learned the statistic that so many of us were motivated by in the end-of-life space, that 75% of people want to die at home and only 25% of us do. That has changed since, which is phenomenal. Nonetheless, it was a big ‘aha’ moment for me where there was a cultural, healthcare, financial, emotional, psychological problem, and then something also that I had deep personal resonance with. It all came together when these two doctors that I didn’t know educated me about how poorly we die.”

Death Over Dinner, a nonprofit focused on participants talking about mortality during shared meals, was Hebb’s answer to the flawed ways dying was typically discussed. “We were only asked to have these conversations in a terrible moment in our lives in a place where we’re naturally not comfortable: in a lawyer’s office talking about wills and trusts, or in an ICU, or with an insurance agent,” he says. “Advocacy doesn’t come from a legal document; it comes from a nuanced conversation. It comes from really knowing somebody and asking vulnerable, difficult questions and understanding what it is that they would want in a variety of situations. That’s the only way we can authentically advocate for someone or honor somebody when they die is if we know not what they put down on line 4a; it’s what they told us when they were opening their hearts to us.”, or EOL, is an expansion of that community-mindedness. The varied resource connects users in conversation, features content from and events with healthcare providers and other experts in death literacy including Compassion & Choices, and allows the sharing of not just information but stories, meaningful songs, nostalgic recipes and more. “EOL is a massive platform, but the goal is very simple. We honestly think that the average American should have a comprehensive end-of-life plan that reflects who they are, their values and what they’re passionate about. We also feel we can get to a place where the average American thinks that they should have a plan too,” Hebb explains. “We’ve tried to make it relatable, to make it appeal to people who may not think that they’re interested in this topic but for whatever reason, life has led them to a site like EOL. And when they get there, they’re greeted by these extraordinary people that hopefully make them feel more comfortable in their words and wisdom. Get incredible information and connect with other people going through the same stuff, that’s the idea: Let’s create a community, not just a cool app.”