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Talking About Death: Not Comfortable but Necessary

Last week we talked to author Michael Hebb about the importance of having conversations about death. Today, we’re actually having the conversation. A gathering of friends, a bottle of wine, and a heartfelt, guided discussion about the end that awaits us all.
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This video was recorded on April 20, 2022.
David Gardner: Netflix is 30 percent decline today. North Carolina’s tragic loss to Kansas in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Death. One of these three April topics is absolutely worth at least one good dinner talk. While the first two, Netflix and my Tar Heels, still have me hurting here in late April. Institutional pass, it’s the third topic that can add the most value to the world this week. As I convene five friends to do something on this podcast, we’ve never done before. Talk about death over dinner. Well, if you listen in last week, you were in for a treat as I welcome the Author Michael Hebb to talk about the subject, people don’t want to talk about. We talked about how not talking about it, is so costly. Not just in dollars though, yes. But an even greater cost, a human cost, a psychological toll. Then at the end of last week’s podcasts we promised you a treat. Michael would come back this week and do something for the first time on a podcast that he has done thousands of times in-person, hosted group of friends to talk about death over dinner. While I got my friends and we got our topic. We have a world-class host this week as we do death over dinner. Only on this week’s Rule Breaker Investing.
ANNOUNCER: It’s the Rule Breaker Investing podcasts with Motley Fool Co-Founder David Gardner. [MUSIC]
David Gardner: Welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing. I don’t know whether most recently you’ve had breakfast, lunch, or dinner. But I want you to know this week’s podcast is very much a dinner feel because we literally had dinner together as we recorded this week’s podcast for you. When I say we, I want to make sure upfront, I tell you who are five guests are. We have our host, Michael Hebb, author of the wonderful book, Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner. I interviewed Michael last week. I highly recommend that conversation if you did not hear it. But even if you didn’t hear it, you’re going to enjoy this week’s dinner and Michael is our host. He talks us through a death over dinner. Have you ever done this yourself before? Well, I had not. But what a treat it was to have a world-class host talking us through. A big reason for this week’s podcast is I wanted this to serve as an exemplar for you to hear what this sounds like, what it feels like so that you might consider in your own context a similar dinner, a similar conversation with those close to you. A lot of us have never done this before, so we might wonder, what does it sound like? Well, the five guests this week, you might wonder, what does each one of them sound like? I think it will be easy enough to track their voices. But before we get started, I must introduce each of the five people you will be hearing from this week. Guests number 1 is Dan Simons. Dan is the co-founder and co-owner of Founding Farmers, an American upscale casual restaurant chain that leads Washington DC in both sales and vision. To it Dan founded our last straw, a not-for-profit devoted to eliminating the use of plastic straws. Our dinner served with this podcast was generously donated by Founding Farmers and our bottle of dry Rozay came from its sister company, Founding Spirits. You can find out more or if you’re in the DC area order, Mother’s Day at Home at wearefoundingfarmers.com. Guest number 2, alphabetically by first name, David Gardner. That is I. I think, hope, you know me pretty well by now. Guest number 3 is Jennifer Gennaro Oxley. Jennifer left the career in both for-profit and not-for-profit change management in order to become the Founding Executive Director of The Motley Fool Foundation. The Motley Fool Foundation launched earlier this month, pursuing its mission of financial freedom for all. If you didn’t get a chance to meet her and learn about The Fool Foundation, you must have missed the first weekly podcast of this month entitled, Introducing The Motley Fool Foundation. You should go back and listen to it or visit us at foolfoundation.org. Guest number 4 is my wife, Margaret. Well, first off at about a dozen ways, Margaret, helped me and Tom found The Motley Fool and keep it going from the [laughs] earliest days to now. She raised three routable, now adult children. She recently completed a Masters in Theological Studies from Wesley Seminary in Washington DC, and now serves as an associate for small group ministry and adult education at National Presbyterian Church. Finally, on a personal note, now seven years in, Margaret is finally making her Rule Breaker Investing podcast debut this week. Guest Number 5 is my friend Vennard Wright. Vennard has for a few decades, served as a Chief Technology Officer for several organizations in the greater Washington DC area. He is today the Chief Executive Officer of Wave Welcome. He has four kids, including a marine and at least one track star, but also has mentored so many more. You can find him at wavewelcome.com. Dinner is served.
Michael Hebb: Well, the best way to start just about anything is by starting. This group of five new friends are gathered around a virtual table tonight. Those are people listening to us from around the world, we’re not in the same place. Something for you to notice. But we are looking into each other’s eyes and for those of us that are around this table, because we don’t have the smell of the same food being cooked on the stove, I’m going to have some imagine, just a quick scenario. People can close their eyes or they can keep them open. But because this is about dinner and it is about connecting with each other. Even those of you who are listening, we can all do this together. Just take a deep breath. It’s important that we actually get present. We’re humans, about to have a very human conversation. Then I just want you to imagine that you’re in a beautiful home, like a place that really just signifies home to you.
The whole day there have been beautiful smells coming out of the kitchen and now we’re sitting around a table, has candle lite, it feels comfortable. It feels a place we want to be and there has been some wine port, there have been a few laughs, and now we’ve settled in. The food is on the table but we’ve been instructed to not start eating yet because first we have to do something very important. Every death dinner that has ever happened starts with a very simple ritual. Those of you who have your eyes still closed, you can open them again. We’re now at the table on our mind, but also looking at each other here. [laughs] But the way that we start these dinners and the way we’re going to start tonight is a very, very old ritual or a gesture or wonderful thing to do and that’s by honoring an ancestor. The way that we do it at death over dinner is if you have a candle that’s close to you, we’re going to ask that when it’s your turn that you’ll lighted, you’re going to think of somebody that has died. Sometimes you say somebody we’ve lost, someone who’s not with us, but those words aren’t really right. Somebody who has died. We want to use words that are actually emblematic of what we’re talking about tonight.
Think of somebody who has died that had a positive, powerful impact in your life. This can be somebody who is in your family, somebody you knew. Some people actually talk about celebrities that had a profound impact on them when they died, or a pet. It doesn’t have to be limited to just your grandmother or your mother or somebody who is close to you. Because not everyone has experienced death that’s close to them. The first thing to note is that you might have somebody come to mind and then you might think, oh that’s a little bit too emotional or too fresh or too raw. I’m going to ask that you actually honor that person by talking about the first-person that comes to mind. This is going to be popcorn style and we’re going to hear some people that are going to talk over each other, and someone is going to say, “Excuse me, you’ve.” But there is no order tonight. But we will go around to everybody for this beginning introduction. I hope that those that are with us tonight will say their name first, we can start to get to know their voice and their name. Then talk about that person, but I wanted to be just a minute-long. This going to be the shortest, deepest eulogy. [laughs] Focus on what the person meant to you. What was the impact they have in your life, and tell us their name. Once you’re done talking about them, somebody else can talk-in, and you can light a candle on their honor. I’m just going to open up to whoever wants to go first.
Vennard Wright: I’ll start. The person that I’m going to honor is my maternal grandfather, John William Senior. He passed away at this point almost 26 years ago. When I was in college, I lived with him, and it was a rough experience for me because he was a very uncompromising man. I never thought I would miss him the way that idea when he passed. But after he passed, I did realize the void that he left as a result of passing. The reason I still miss my grandfather so much is because, just being perfectly honest, and my friend David knows this is how I am, I was a screw up that time. I know that the part of the reason he was so hard on this because he wanted to see me do better. One of the things I wish is that he lived long enough to see the success in my career and otherwise. That’s part of the reason I’m honoring my grandfather, John William Senior.
David Gardner: Thank you, Vennard and I’ll go next. This is David Gardner and I’m going to light a candle for my mother, my mother, Mary [inaudible] Murphy, her maiden name, and then Gardner, and then MacDill. She remarried toward the end of her life. The reason I’m going to light a candle for my mother’s because well, all the maternal things and you can’t express in a day let alone a minute all the things you might want to say about your mother or father. But in particular, she died in a way that was very admirable to me. She forsook extreme measures. She didn’t even want chemotherapy, she had cancer. She checked into a hotel in New York City, her favorite hotel, and she spent our last six months of her life there and with the permission of the hotelier. But it was a demonstration to her kids and a lot of her friends that going out on your own terms, it’s a little bit of a heroic thing and something that I so appreciate. Lighting it for my mom, Mary [inaudible] .
Jennifer Gennaro Oxley: This is Jennifer and I’m going to take that queue David and Vennard, thank you for sharing. Because mine, the person I’m honoring is my godmother, my aunt Carolyn. She is my mom’s sister. The reason I’m honoring her is because she was the first person to tell me at 13 to get on that plane and come down and see her by myself. I think, though there are so many things she instilled in me, one is and I will say quickly that in order to move forward in your life, you need to challenge yourself. Getting on that plane by myself was the way to do it. But what I walked into was the most loving person on the planet who always knew I could do it and I always knew that I was going into a place of extreme love from her. Though she died, unfortunately not on her own terms and way, way too early, she certainly taught me that very important lesson of being free and taking chances. That there’s always someone most often there’s someone like that that will love you unconditionally regardless of what path you take.
Margaret Gardner: This is Margaret Gardner and I’d like to honor my name stake who was my paternal grandmother, also, Margaret. She was born into a family of seven girls. She had three boys, and her first two boys had boys. I was the first girl in her family over all. We were very close. We’ve talked about the hospitality and the table. She taught me what it meant to serve others and to create a welcoming atmosphere, to be a good listener. She was actually born in 1896. She had my father very late in life and I felt a connection to history to her, which I really prized. She was southerner, she was a great storyteller and herself told a lot of stories about history and storytelling aspect is also something that I came to love through her.
Dan Simons: I need a deep breath. This is Dan, I will light my candle. The person that I’m honoring is my brother-in-law. He was killed in a helicopter crash 15 years ago and he was just remarkable. An endless supply of patience and wisdom. Seemingly at any age has been in my life since I was probably seven or eight. Started dating my sister when they were teenagers and they were married for decades before he was killed. I don’t know if he went out on his own terms, but he was a helicopter pilot. I think he went out on his own terms. While I don’t think it was his exact plan, I’m grateful for having had him in my life for so long, and even his death has a element of being a gift to me. I’m appreciative to have this group to think about it.
Michael: It’s beautiful and back to me, this is Michael. My father always shows up. I’m going to light a candle to my dad. My dad was born in 1904. For those of you who can’t see me, I’m now at 75. But he was 72 when I was born. His name is Paul. He was born in 1904 and a minor shed in the Yukon territory during the gold rush. He was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was in second grade and he died when I was 13. He is really who this work is dedicated to in so many ways. My family was left behind, didn’t know how to talk about death and grief. I think he did, but the Alzheimer took that from him. We didn’t have the opportunity to have open conversations as a family. But one thing that he taught me was how to be in nature, but it it was even more than a Master Class. He was a bit of a snow white. He would literally speak to animals. On multiple occasions, birds would fly out of trees onto his fingers and spend some time chirping at him. This was frequent. [laughs] How to be in nature was a thing that I learned from him. I honor him as much as I possibly can, Paul Hebb.
We’re going to move on to our first question. Those of you tuning in, hopefully you are imagining our table now lit with candles that are honoring these incredible folks that came before us. I’m going to give you a little bit of the commentary on how these dinners come together in the sense. We start with a question you’ve heard before. Not necessarily the shallow end of the pool. Because there’s even these everyday questions that we’ve run into can evoke some pretty strong emotions. But we want to start with something that’s almost a little bit more of an ice breaker. That could be something like, what’s on your bucket list. Why haven’t you completed it? What would the last meal you want to eat? But today we’re going to talk about because we are in your ears and you’re listening to us, we’re talking about music. We’re going to talk about a song and a song that you would want to have performed at your funeral or memorial, or wake or whatever gathering that is going to happen after you die. There’s a real practical side to this. A lot of people don’t get this information from their loved ones. There are some infights that happen around. But I think dad would want x, y, and z. [laughs] A little practical bit at the core of it. The question is, what song would play at your memorial. If there is somebody in particular that comes to mind that you would like to have performing. That could be somebody famous or somebody in your family. This is fantasy world, but it also might be very practical. We’ll just go around popcorn style. Whoever wants to answer this question,.
Dan: I will jump in here. This is Dan. I definitely would want Bruce Springsteen, Born to run, and I love that you asked who I’d want to perform it because I would want my nieces and nephew to perform it. When they were really young, I paid each of them. I offered them a $20 each if they would memorize the lyrics. I thought I’m not a very effective parent, but I got somehow give these kids that I’m raising some important things in life. I think they need to know the lyrics to some Springsteen. [laughs] I think that’s what I would want played and how I would want it performed, it would be a nice culmination.
Michael: I’m going to do a quick follow-up and this is to everyone. We got a little bit of the why. But why that song?
Dan: There’s just something about Springsteen, that when I hear his voice, specifically, I hear those lyrics. Well, it isn’t exactly my exact story.
We got to get out of here and we got to go do whatever we’re capable of. We got to get after it. We got to get to it. We’re born to get to it. That’s the message that I’ve always taken from that, and I still do. Life is for living until you’re dead and then you’re dead.
Vennard: I’ll go next. This is Vennard. For me, it will be Take Five by Dave Brubeck. As far as who performs it since Dave Brubeck won’t be able to performing it himself, I would love to have the Marsalis brothers perform it. If I were able to pull that off. The reason I’d love to have Take Five performed, is everything about that song is off balance. That’s really the way that I try to live my life to keep people off balance side. One of the jokes I have with my insurances, be careful around me because I want you to stay on your toes. I’m always going to try and surprise you. That’s really what I hear in that song. I’d love for that to be my final thoughts.
Jennifer: Vennard, this is Jennifer. Glad we know that about you now now that we’re on the rest of this podcast. [laughs]. I will try not to keep it together.
Vennard: Absolutely.
Jennifer: My song, Always and Forever is September by Earth, Wind, and Fire. But if I had my two others, it would be with Maurice White, who is also passed. He was one of the founders, but the other three are still there. Because, a couple of things, one, I was born in September. B, I think my birthday is a national holiday. [laughs] As my husband said, it’s the only thing I actually care about personally when I’m not taking care of others all year. I think the third thing is, no matter what venue I’ve seen Earth, Wind, and Fire, no matter where, that song brings people together of all ages, all culture, all ethnicities, it doesn’t matter. That they, Earth, Wind, and Fire have a way of bringing people together. That song is just very much around how I live my life, and that’s largely what I do. Yeah, plus it’s just so darn fun. That’s the other piece. Just gets you up and moving. That’s my song, but I love the other two as well.
David: I’m not as musically oriented, I think as the average person. I really had not thought about this too much, Michael, even though I’ve read your book and loved your book, and I probably should have expected this, but it’s a reminder that I need to think about this going forward. I will say that a song that I’ve always loved. I don’t know if we would be able to get Idina Menzel together to team up with Kristin Chenoweth, and real act Defying Gravity from Wicked. But I’ve always loved that song because I’m through accepting limits because someone says there’s some things I cannot change, but till I try never know. Its beautiful lyrics is important if those who loved the musical Wicked and I’m a big fan of Broadway musicals know that it’s a core song. It ends the first act. Something important happens, no spoilers to the wicked witch, so-called of the west. But I loved the idea of Defying Gravity. A lot of people don’t think you could ever beat the market. It would be just luck to beat the market averages. Anything that challenges conventional wisdom. If you look at my Twitter profile, you’ll see my quotas. If you care to find me, look to the western sky.
Margaret: I’m taking notes, David. I’ll be right now. What we need to do?
David: It’s a fun dynamic to have a couple. Michael mentioned, it’s fun to have a husband and wife. Margaret, I’m not pre-requesting that. Really, this is more of a wake-up call for me to be more intentionally here.
Margaret: I think it’s mind opening for both of us. Since I work within the church, I had more conventional hymns, some already picked out, but I’m a huge Earth, Wind, and Fire fan. I love the idea of bringing that all of us together with that. Probably something that speaks to those who are there. If it is in a church, Amazing Grace or an Ode To Joy, that recognizes that the funeral service, or the memorial, or the remembrance of life is much for the people who are there than it is for me, which I think everyone there recognize. It’s how we want to be remembered, but what brings light and hope to those who are saying goodbye.
Michael: Yeah. I think that’s a beautiful reminder and Vennard, I’ve got it just share a quick reflection. One of my favorite musical moments of all time is when I got to see Dave Brubeck and his son play Take Five together. I was like 17 years old at a jazz festival sitting just feet away from them.
Vennard: I’m jealous [laughs].
Michael: But my song today, and these things change as you step your foot in this river so often. But this is pretty common one that comes up for me, and it’s David Bowie Starman. I would want a full sing along with song books out to everybody. There’s two reasons why, and I’ll keep it brief. But one, that song has this real look back over your shoulder from the other side and wink, and smile, quality about it. It really is letting people know it’s all going to be OK, and I’m in a good spot. Because I actually think that it’s going to be a wild ride when we all die, and a good one. The other reason is when I found out that David Bowie died, I cried my face off. I literally started sobbing. I was sitting in a cafe when I realized it, because Bowie was playing and I saw a post on a friend’s Facebook feed, the brightest light in the universe has gone out today. I put the two and two together, and just started sobbing. I’ve never been impacted by a celebrity death. I didn’t even consider myself the biggest Bowie fan. But there’s something about that man’s life and not having one in the planet that impacted me so deeply. We’re going to move on to a question that we might not get all the way around the table with. We’ll see because it’s a big question. The question is a little bit more of a context, like receiving news. Only six of us here just received the news that we only have 30 days left to live. The first question is, how do you feel? Second question is, what are you going to do with your 30 days? Then, what is your last day like? Who’s around you? Where are you? How are you feeling? Now before we jump in, let’s just imagine that you’re going to be well of mind and body up until the last day. It’s not always the case obviously. But there are a lot of people out there that do get very short prognosis, very short life expectancy. The first thing to really focus on, you’ve just found out you have 30 days left to live, and you can continue through the other parts of this question as well, but how do you feel?
David: Utterly shocked.
Michael: Let’s just go around the whole table. Let’s just talk about how we feel first, and then we’ll talk about what we’re going to spend those states doing. What’s that first hit?
Margaret: I thought I’d be ready, but am I?
Dan: I think I would have to piggyback on what Margaret said. It’s not so much that I’m afraid of it. Just wondering if I’m ready, if the people around me are ready. Yeah. I think I would say I’m OK, and then terribly sad and worried for everybody else’s.
Jennifer: I think I would guess, and I would say, angry and grateful. Angry because I want to live. I love life for thousand reasons, and grateful because I’ve been so lucky in life.
Michael: It’s beautiful. Generally, and it’s Michael again, my response to this over the last 10 years has been a strange piece about getting that news. But as I’m thinking about it right now, I would not go gently [laughs] that good night. It’s mostly because I’m really, really in love with somebody. It’s still relatively new. It’s a year-and-a-half, and I’m not OK with that. We’re just getting started. I’d have a real problem with this news. Now go a little bit longer. Somebody just walk us through, what are you going to do with that time? What are you going to do with the 30 days? Then take us all the way till your last day and where are you and who’s around you?
Vennard: This is Vennard. I will jump in on that one. For me, if I know I have 30 days, all rules are out the window. I will stop exercising, number one. [laughs] I will eat everything unhealthy they say will shorten your life span. That means ribs, potato chips, lots of liquor. I mean, I will [laughs] have a good time for the last 30 days. That will, I guess wind down to the last day where I’d love to have as many of my loved ones around me as possible. I’d like to have individual time with each one of them. Certainly, I guess culminating with my kids and my wife. I’d like to really explain a lot of, I guess, my interactions over the years. If I was hard on them, here is why I was hard on them, here’s the potential I saw on you. With my wife just she be the last person I’d want to spend time with, because I just want to let her know that she has been incredible. I do wish, to your point, I have longer with her. But that’s really the way I would conduct myself. Certainly, having a great time going up to the last day, but the last day making sure that people, there is no ambiguity around the way that I felt about each one of them.
David: I think it’s natural to start thinking about what I would want to do, last-minute bucket list, that thing. But really, having listened to the wisdom of the crowd here. I think a lot of it is just about making sure as many people that you care about are OK with this and understand, and will proceed forward in a healthy way. I think it’s about having conversations. It’s not climbing that last mountain, I don’t think. If and when this happens to me, I want to make sure that I have spent the time to say the things and capture those things maybe for my great grandchildren. Part of doing a podcast is in just some ways, I think, any of my great grandkids could go back and listen to what we’re saying right now. I love if that legacy exists. But I might want to create that a little bit more. But more than anything I think, it’s about those human connections and making sure everybody understands and how it’s going to go from here.
Michael: What about your last day there, where you?
David: Well, it’s always so important to me to be in beautiful places, that’s always been so inspiring and uplifting. I’m pretty sure I’m at the beach. Probably in the state of North Carolina where Margret and I met as graduates of UNC Chapel Hill. I love looking out at the ocean. Maybe we’re scaring or alarming some of the other people around the beach because we have a whole gathering here, and I’m dying [laughs] in front of the surf. But I think we’re there just because it’s so uplifting to look up into the blue sky and then across and an endless horizon.
Margret: One thing I appreciate from your book, Michael, is your emphasis on preparing people also just for the decisions that need to be made around the end. If I haven’t gotten them together yet, I hope by then maybe I will have a meaningful funeral crafted and our service that will bring others in in a way that they feel comfort in that. I think for me there is a little bit of a bucket list. The opportunity to bring together, as David was picking up of his podcast, a bit of a legacy and speaking forward. I have a lot of notes of unfinished poems and things, and I’m like, “Okay, I keep that up.” Maybe I will actually take the time to draw some of those together and put together a little chat book or something that is a way of sharing my thoughts and my story of my family going forward. The last day I will probably be with David on the beach. [laughs] Like I hope we go out together.
David: Well, but if we did Margret, it’s funny because you’ve been writing poems for years now and I’m not sure where you keep them or what do you even say.
Margret: I said that’s why I got 30 days to get this done for you. [laughs]
David: I mean, it’s amazing. I know there are various famous poets, maybe George Herbert was one of them, one of Margret favorite poets, who in their own lifetime, no one knew they were writing poetry. Then, it’s all there. Posthumously, they become the famous poet from the 15th-16th, 19th century or 21st century. I think I probably should connect before you die though.
Michael: Let’s get some light on those poems. [laughs].
David: [inaudible] I hear you.
Jennifer: My grandmother used to say in good marriages, you don’t know everything about each other and that’s OK. [laughs]
Michael: I love it.
Jennifer: Surprises all your life is a good thing. [laughs] This is Jennifer, I will say for me, my husband and I are late parents. The first thing that comes to mind is that we are almost 50 this year, which we’re very excited about. However, I have children, a child who’s under five. I would worry about them having the roadmap they need and the confidence to know they have to love and all of that. I think that would be for me the first thing I would do in that 30 days is. But I think I would probably do it in a way where we all experience something new, something that pulls us out of our comfort zone. Jumping out of a plane comes to mind, but you don’t do that with a five-year old. But something like that, that feels very unifying with all of the people around me, especially my brother who is one of my best friends. I mean, those things, I think that brings us out of our comfort zones together, but we unify through a new experience. I think the other piece for me in those 30 days is to continue on with how I feel about being a servant leader. Is the thing that we’ve set up in life going to do well for others? Is it going to continue? In whatever way it’s supposed to and just assuming that we’ve set it up so well, during our time, every day, not just in that last month, that it actually just continues on its own.
I think that’s part of this, the answer to this question, for me Michael, is around, are we living every day in a way that doesn’t put too much pressure on ourselves but set things up. Set things in motion for the future so that it’s not always about what you have to do in the last month? The last month you can actually not have fun, go out there and do your thing, finish your poems. Whatever it is that you want to do. I would hope that what we’ve set up so far just is going to be successful, specifically for other people. Then I think I would do something out of the box with my family on a regular basis and live it up. I think the last day I would absolutely be with my husband and my kids and my immediate family, we’re extremely close. But one thing my father-in-law did not do when he passed and I love him dearly is, I had gotten him a book and I asked him to write something to my son, and he chose not to. Now he’s a public figure and my son will see a lot of video on him. My son will see a lot of laws around him. But he will not have that note from him. I learned a lesson from that, he was too broken up about dying soon to do it, but it is something that I would not repeat, I think I would write that thing to my kids, et cetera, so they had that moving forward. If that’s helpful to them, and I hope it is.
Michael: It’s beautiful.
Dan Simons: I’m glad we’re having wine with dinner. I’m thinking about switching to bourbon, which, by the way, I did set myself up. For clarity, I do have a bottle of bourbon here as well. I think I would take these last 30 days. You’ll see, I do like to be organized. My mind went to 30 days. I could cut each one and a half, that gives me 60. I could map this out and I could get the list of the folks, friends, and family that are most important to me. Then I would look to spend one-on-one time with that core group thinking about trying to leave nothing unsaid and nothing unheard. Just trying to learn from what I hear people when they talk about death and obviously, we only talk to the living about death. I often hear people say, “I should have said.” Maybe I could use this time not just to say what I want to make sure that the people that I love and care about here, but I would want to do my best to make sure nobody carries any burden and just the opposite. I would want to help them carry only the positive.
Fine, I’ll be dead and gone, but they’ll still be here. I would want to use that time in whatever way makes them lightest and best for the time they have left. Then I would definitely take some time. I have three kids, teenagers now, three boys. I would want to record some messages. Well, that makes me sad actually just thinking about it. For the milestones ahead for them. I’m going to take a sip of wine. I think that would be nice for them. Then in my last day, I would want us to all go skiing together. I think you can do with all generations. My mom still skis, she’s in her ’80s. I would hope she wouldn’t be here for this. There is no word for someone losing a child. I would want that to occur after she is dead, but we could just ski. Then I could just evaporate into one of the back bowls, where sometimes my kids may think I’m not coming back from anyways since they’re now all better skiers than me. Then they could have that joy of such a positive memory forever of skiing together.
David: I love what you just said, Dan and what Jennifer said earlier. Each of you talking about having a moment that people will remember forever. That they were there with you whether it’s skiing or jumping out of a plane or whatever it is. I don’t know what my signature moment would be, but thinking about that is worth worthwhile.
MALE_2: Absolutely, and to underscore the idea of communicating with our kids. To leave something behind that is specifically for them. If my dad would have done that, left a recording that was dedicated to me or a piece of writing, you can imagine that would be one of the most read things in my life, for any of our lives if we had that. That’s a reminder from the dead to the living to some extent [laughs] and we don’t have to wait for it quite frankly. Because time isn’t promised. I will share just one quick thing that comes up from me around the 30 days before we move onto the next question. I’m going to borrow from the world of destination weddings. Destination weddings are brilliant because they really separate, they filter out people. [laughs] Looks like Jennifer had one. [laughs]
Jennifer: I did.
Michael: The more remote, the more the person has to really be committed to that wedding. I like this idea of placing myself in New Zealand or something like that. [laughs] Being like, I really want to spend time with you, all the people in my life that are close to me. Let them know, “Hey, I’m going to be here for 29 days and if you make your way to New Zealand we’re going to spend some really quality time together.” [laughs] Just see who shows up, [laughs] make sure my family’s there. Then, of course, the final day would be a much smaller circle and it would be very much near water, and hopefully, in the mountains. I think this going to be our last question tonight. This one’s asked, also, a bit of a practical one. It could be a bit of a fun one. You guys are already seeing that there is laughter. There’s been some tears.
This is a conversation topic that has all the colors of the rainbow, but the last question is about what happens to your body? We live in a remarkable time when it comes to death care. Your body can obviously be buried. It can be cremated. You can be now composted in many states, turned into soil within three weeks, and then put into a beautiful garden. You can be planted in a Redwood Grove in certain conservation easements. You can be turned into a diamond quite literally. A bit of your cremated remains or even just your hair if you don’t want to be cremated can be turned into a diamond. You can be turned into beautiful polished stones. One of my favorite things, parting stone. You can be shot into space and you can be turned into a coral reef quite literally and to a reef that rebuilds other reefs, which is extraordinary. There are a lot of options. [laughs]
David: How expensive is it to be shot into space. That’s sounds expensive.
Michael: I don’t know. I think Elon Musk is shooting things into space every day. [laughs] Throw a little something outside of a rocket. But nonetheless, what happens to your body?
Vennard: This is Vennard. I’ve gone back and forth about what I want to happen after I die. I used to say I was going to donate my body to science until I heard horror stories about some of the medical students. That’s off the table. Just going to be perfectly honest. That’s not going to happen.
David: Vennard what was the horror story?
Vennard: Just how they were playing with the body. I granted I wouldn’t be coherent to see it. But at the same time I just didn’t like the thought of that. For me, the next thing was just to make sure that I cut down on expenses as much as possible. I was looking at cremation as an option, but after listening to the option of turning into a coral reef, I’d love to have that happen. I’ve had a fish tank constantly since I’ve been 12 years old. I really love the ocean. I love fish. I have a small water feature outside. I’ve stopped saying it’s a pond because I’ve gone to people’s houses and seen real ponds. I wouldn’t consider mine a pond, but I just love fish and I love the idea of being able to contribute to nature, which I absolutely love. I’m going to look into that one and see if it’s possible for me to become a coral reef.
Dan: I have to say now I think I want to be a coral reefs in Vennard’s fish tank. [laughs]
Michael: Are you ready for that, Vennard?
Vennard: Absolutely, I am. [laughs]
Dan: I’m an organ donor on my driver’s license. That’s I hope the first thing that happens. Then I think I’m good with the cremation, or frankly, as Vennard said, the least expensive, easiest to deal with things and then I’m happy to have my ashes planted in the garden. I know that I still have the ashes of several of our dogs in little boxes up on the shelves. Part of that is lovely and then part of that is like, what do we do with this? My dad’s ashes are in the garden under a tree. That’s good because that’s where they are. What’s going to happen one day with those dogs ashes. I don’t want anyone that my family that survives me to have to deal with me in some form. Spread me in the garden.
Michael: Yeah. I think that the statistic I heard is that there are 30 million Americans with ashes in the boxes. They came in from the cremation center, from crematoriums still in a closet, somewhere. But not in something that is giving them honor. There’s a lot of that.
Dan: I think that the direction for the family that survives me is key. I don’t want anyone to have to be thinking about what that decision is. For me it’s written down, they have that answer and they can just do that without having to decide if they should be able to figure out what that is. For me in my mind, that’s too much of a burden.
Jennifer: Well, I love to go the coral reef except the last time I went to the Caribbean, I ended up cutting my arm on a coral reef and getting stitches. I’m going to, even though I fully love coral reefs, [laughs] we’re actually going to go in that direction. Yes, I’m an organ donor. This is Jennifer. But I will say that I often think about it from the perspective of grief. We all know that if there’s another old say for my grandmother, “If you go around grief, it will stick with you for your life. If you go through grief, you will find the sun.” When she said that to me, I thought, “What’s the best way other than communicating and planning and preparing and making sure everyone knows the plan?” For me, that was cremation. Because with my aunt, Carolyn, back to the original personal I’m still honoring with this candle, being able to spread her ashes where she wanted it to go, we all felt wonderful together on the beach that she was at. It released my spirit and it allowed me to go through the grief versus going around it. I thought of it from the perspective of the person that’s going to be experiencing the grief, which all of our loved ones. I will tell you my husband is doing the opposite. [laughs] He’s going to. [laughs] It was an interesting conversation with us, are we together or aren’t we? Ultimately we chose not to be because I really believe in this grief piece and he really wants to be next to his father. There is this. I may shift as to where my ashes are spread closer to him. It was an interesting conversation between my husband and me. As we are older parents, we had to do all of this a little while ago.
Michael: Yeah. The beauty of ashes, I will just let you know is you can pass them out. A nice ceremonial earned [laughs] at the head of [laughs]. Wow, it’s true.
Jennifer: Thank you for that.
Michael: Yeah, of course.
Margaret: I’m a big gardener. I love the compost option. I do. Vennard, I heard what you were saying about feeling that I think the body, although it is no longer in regular use and we’re ashes to ashes, dust to dust, but it needs to be respected. I think that’s something that goes way back to ancient cultures about concerns with burying the dead. I do think that I would want to do it in a way that everybody in the family was comfortable with in terms of composting me. Then Dan, as you said, designate particular garden in which to use that compost as a way to enrich the soil in that place. Because it is helpful when you let the family know where you’d like to be and in fact, David mentioned his mother earlier. Her ashes were in a garage for a long time.
David: More than a year.
Margaret: She didn’t leave any direction. She did die very suddenly and was ill toward the end and probably just didn’t have the opportunity to think that through for us or just wasn’t her focus. I was like guys, we got to come up with a place. It just feels disrespectful to leave them on a shelf in the garage. But his family came up with a great idea.
David: Yes, it was. We don’t live too far from Mount Vernon, George Washington’s about here in Northern Virginia. We took an Episcopalian priest who’s a dear friend of the family members and cousins. We snuck onto the property. Well, actually we legitimately paid our past to go to Mount Vernon that day, 10 years ago or so. We found a gorgeous tree just about 50 yards from Mount Vernon. We snuck under the tree and set a quick right and scatter moms ashes right there. Don’t tell anybody in Mount Vernon by the way. [laughs] Because I’m not sure what we did was allowed, but it’s what happened. In fact that Episcopalian priest was very impressive since written a book of his memoirs and included that as a short chapter [laughs] because he was a subversive. That’s what we loved about him. So was my mother, it made a lot of sense for us.
Margaret: She loved Mount Vernon.
David: She did.
Margaret: It was one of the places on earth. It was in view of the Potomac where she used to stand and paint.
David: That’s right. She was a gardener like Margaret as well. Margaret, I think I’d want to be near you. Wherever you are, I think that’s where I am in. [laughs] I’ve always just imagined the traditional burial. I don’t know. One thing is for sure Michael, I’ve not actually finally decided this, but I think just being buried as Mike Corp’s and allow me just to go to cede over the course of time. But more than anything I think about a headstone that celebrates Margaret and me and probably has some gesture element to it. If over the course of time it got robbed, and maybe over the course of time start to erode because people came and robbed it for good luck for their stock market. [laughs] Maybe they come by and there’s a janitor and there’s an opportunity to rob it. It gets worn down over time. It gives people joy and a sense that investing is going to work for them, which I sure hope it does for everybody. That’s where I am right now on this.
Michael: That’s funny that we think of headstone as old fashioned in some sense. The cutting-edge research around grief for at least the most recognizing knowledge thinking around grief, is that something like a headstone, some place that you can visit, something that is palpable to continue a relationship with the person that has died is actually the healthiest way through grief. It’s not about getting back to normal, it’s not about integrating. It’s not about these five stages, that there are no five stages of grief. Elizabeth could reverse yourself disavowed that idea before she died. Grief is messy. But one thing that does really help is a continuing bond or a continuing relationship and seen in religions and traditions and cultures throughout time. I love all of these ideas. For me, for my body, my favorite thing is these stones that you can make, it’s called parting stone. They take your cremated remains and they turn, they use all of them and they are turned into these beautiful polished stones that are whatever color you come out of the process of being cremated. There’s a variety of colors that come out of the crematoriums. Then you have about 40 stones that can be given to loved ones. You can say who to divide it among, where to put them or leave it open. But is that comic tragic image of people trying to cast ashes. Then they’ll gust of wind comes up and also near eating grandma. [laughs] It’s not just something you see in Hollywood. It really is a thing. [laughs] It doesn’t take much wind to catch hold of ashes. Just be aware. People are like, we’ll do it on a boat in the ocean. News for you, the ocean’s windy. [laughs].
David: Windy.
Michael: Windy. Yeah. Wave generate wind themselves too. [laughs] We’ll leave you with that image. But there is that we’ve gone through a few questions and we’re going to close the dinner on the table in the way that we ask all people to host these. Just a note to the listener. I pick some questions from the hub but the website that’s overdinner.org. asked you a leading question. Since essentially why do you want to have this dinner have so many loves received a terminal diagnosis? Are you grieving? Are you just a young family or a young person or any age person just thinks this is a great idea or spiritually or philosophically interesting? It asked you that basic question, the why of it. When you answer that question for multiple choice, it creates a script for you. The script consists of pretty much what we’re doing tonight, but its custom-generated or around the why. The last thing, that’s just something to know. You don’t have to come up with these questions. They’re baked in for you. You get a full script for how the evening goes plus the invitation language that you can use. Because it’s a weird thing to invite people to enter to. [laughs] Here’s a great little lift for you and we’ll describe it for you so that you can send them in email or however you want to, to people you want to have come to dinner. The last thing that we do, the way that we’ve had all of these dinners and around the world is something called an appreciation. What we call an appreciation in the round. It’s very simple. It’s a great way to stop thinking about death and going into the rest of our day evening flashlight.
The way it would work at a table is somebody gets inspired to say something they appreciate or admire or noticed about a person who’s sitting to their left. We just have a moment of silence and somebody says, I have something to say about the person sitting to my left, and they say something pretty short, some appreciation. Then that person turns to the person on their left and they goes around tell everybody but it has been appreciated once and we teach people how to take in an appreciation. You don’t try to deflect it, you just say thank you. You don’t then in turn appreciate them and there’s just taking it in. Some people’s first-time that they’ve actually properly received an appreciation. [laughs] We don’t know how to do that, well. Tonight, because we’re not sitting around the table, we’ll just have whoever wants to start pick somebody and looks like David hand is up and he is going to appreciate somebody, and then you pick somebody who hasn’t been appreciated yet and we’ll go daisy-chain all the way around the circle.
David: Well, thank you, Michael, and you’re sitting to my left tonight. Thank you so much even though I’m in one Washington and you’re in another Washington, I feel so connected to you and I’ve so grateful for the time that you’ve given our listeners this month. Last week’s interview with you about your book, let’s talk about death over dinner, was a highlight for me. Being able to do this with this group of friends is an even bigger highlight for me. Michael, you have made this possible for us tonight. You have done this thousands and now by association, millions of times. I appreciate you and what you’re doing. As soon as I heard about your book, I thought that’s a great talent, I want to read that. Now having read that, I know the power of what we’ve shared this week. In fact, I got a tweet. This is from add sunflower markets, I don’t know markets. But this is just a simple reminder of the importance of your work and what you’re doing. This came just yesterday to me, reflecting on last week’s podcast with you. Marcus said, thank you so much for last week’s podcast, it was the most important one, the most timely. I was in the room on Thursday when my grandpa passed away, I’m having trouble sleeping, I’m haunted and terrified, but I know I need to talk about death. Marcus, I’m pretty sure you’re listening to us right now I hope you know you’re right and we’ve got an all-star in the room with us all here this week and his name is Michael Hebb and his work and what he has enabled us to share tonight with so many of you. Michael, you were sitting on my left tonight.
Michael: Well, that makes it might turn, thank you, David. Jennifer, you’re more or less on my left, there’s a little bit of a bump in the road, but we’re going to get over to the left and folks don’t have to continue with the left but I actually did want to acknowledge Jennifer. There was a vulnerability about what you shared tonight in relationship to your father-in-law and a disappointment. That’s a hard thing to share and how you wanted to make sure that that experience was different when it came to you. But the reason why I think it’s so important to share things with such vulnerability and also grace. But specifically the vulnerability around it is it’s healing for us personally to be able to say those things. But it also gives other people permission to think, feel, and say things that they might think are hard to say. Thank you for doing that. It impacted me and I’m sure it impacted a lot of our listeners.
Jennifer: Thank you, Michael. I really appreciate that. I’m going to send an appreciation to Dan. Dan doesn’t know is that I started my career in the hospitality business too, and so I feel you the whole time on here around how focused you are in the human. When you showed your emotion around a topic which not all the men and my life do. They don’t find it as easy to do that. I just really appreciated your vulnerability there. I also love your song, born to run, because it fits who we know of you in the press and now that I know you just a little bit personally, I feel like I can see why you chose that song because you are trailblazer that we love to follow and watch. Speaking of trailblazers, it makes sense about your skiing. All the way around, I just felt this connection with you, but really appreciate your vulnerability and willingness to step out of the box.
Dan: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that. Margaret, I have to say that as I was listening to you, your respect, and acknowledgment, at least the way I absorbed it of tradition or history. There was just a reference in the way that you talked about some things that matter. It struck me in a way that I think I needed to be struck that you helped me think that I shouldn’t just be thinking about myself. That there is a bigger picture, and history matters and tradition matters, and it all matters. Although I don’t know you, I just really absorb that respect and reference and awareness from you and I thought that that was really lovely, so thank you for that.
Margaret: Thank you. Vennard you are to my left and I want to mention that I appreciated so much the way you were willing to jump in. I’m going to pause and think through and find the right answer and you were just ready, but so thoughtful in all of your responses. I think they were fabulous because they show you are a person of deep reflection. Yet always ready to maybe up a little bit. As you said, with your song that you’d like at your service and willing to put yourself forward. I do think your grandfather would be very proud.
Vennard: Thank you. I’d like to thank David as I’ve done before. I had the privilege of meeting David in 2019 through Leadership Greater Washington and we were a part of the same mind trust. Over that time I really got to know David and he’s since become one of my favorite people on earth. I don’t say that lightly. There are several things that I like about David, so it’s not just this conversation. Why I’m appreciative of his friendship is the fact that he pushes me to do better. I do try to make sure I surround myself by people that encourage me in certain directions. As a result of my friendship with David, one of the things he has given me is that I have invested more aggressively. I have tried to pass that message to others. I just appreciate the fact that he’s unapologetic about being a brilliant person, and that is certainly something that I try to make sure is cool. It’s cool to be a nerd and that’s something I get called Vennard a lot. It’s good to have smart friend and I appreciate your friendship David, looking forward to many years together.
David: Thank you Vennard. Last got to talk with you and Dan on this podcast in an uncomfortable conversation we did two years ago and I said to you guys, just before we started tonight, “Whenever we get intense and whenever we go deep, I like this group.” Obviously Dan and Vennard come to mind, but to have Jennifer and Margaret join was so special. Each of you is such a self-confidence, strong voice on your own, each of you I was fascinated waiting to hear what you’d say to each of Michael’s prompts and I felt so rewarded. Thank you, Vennard and thank you each. Thank you, Michael.
Michael Hebb: We did it. You all have survived a destiny.
David Gardner owns Netflix. Jennifer Gennaro Oxley has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Netflix. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. –

Last week we talked to author Michael Hebb about the importance of having conversations about death. Today, we’re actually having the conversation. A gathering of friends, a bottle of wine, and a heartfelt, guided discussion about the end that awaits us all.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool’s free podcasts, check out our podcast center. To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks. A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on April 20, 2022.

David Gardner: Netflix is 30 percent decline today. North Carolina’s tragic loss to Kansas in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Death. One of these three April topics is absolutely worth at least one good dinner talk. While the first two, Netflix and my Tar Heels, still have me hurting here in late April. Institutional pass, it’s the third topic that can add the most value to the world this week. As I convene five friends to do something on this podcast, we’ve never done before. Talk about death over dinner. Well, if you listen in last week, you were in for a treat as I welcome the Author Michael Hebb to talk about the subject, people don’t want to talk about. We talked about how not talking about it, is so costly. Not just in dollars though, yes. But an even greater cost, a human cost, a psychological toll. Then at the end of last week’s podcasts we promised you a treat. Michael would come back this week and do something for the first time on a podcast that he has done thousands of times in-person, hosted group of friends to talk about death over dinner. While I got my friends and we got our topic. We have a world-class host this week as we do death over dinner. Only on this week’s Rule Breaker Investing.

ANNOUNCER: It’s the Rule Breaker Investing podcasts with Motley Fool Co-Founder David Gardner. [MUSIC]

David Gardner: Welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing. I don’t know whether most recently you’ve had breakfast, lunch, or dinner. But I want you to know this week’s podcast is very much a dinner feel because we literally had dinner together as we recorded this week’s podcast for you. When I say we, I want to make sure upfront, I tell you who are five guests are. We have our host, Michael Hebb, author of the wonderful book, Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner. I interviewed Michael last week. I highly recommend that conversation if you did not hear it. But even if you didn’t hear it, you’re going to enjoy this week’s dinner and Michael is our host. He talks us through a death over dinner. Have you ever done this yourself before? Well, I had not. But what a treat it was to have a world-class host talking us through. A big reason for this week’s podcast is I wanted this to serve as an exemplar for you to hear what this sounds like, what it feels like so that you might consider in your own context a similar dinner, a similar conversation with those close to you. A lot of us have never done this before, so we might wonder, what does it sound like? Well, the five guests this week, you might wonder, what does each one of them sound like? I think it will be easy enough to track their voices. But before we get started, I must introduce each of the five people you will be hearing from this week. Guests number 1 is Dan Simons. Dan is the co-founder and co-owner of Founding Farmers, an American upscale casual restaurant chain that leads Washington DC in both sales and vision. To it Dan founded our last straw, a not-for-profit devoted to eliminating the use of plastic straws. Our dinner served with this podcast was generously donated by Founding Farmers and our bottle of dry Rozay came from its sister company, Founding Spirits. You can find out more or if you’re in the DC area order, Mother’s Day at Home at wearefoundingfarmers.com. Guest number 2, alphabetically by first name, David Gardner. That is I. I think, hope, you know me pretty well by now. Guest number 3 is Jennifer Gennaro Oxley. Jennifer left the career in both for-profit and not-for-profit change management in order to become the Founding Executive Director of The Motley Fool Foundation. The Motley Fool Foundation launched earlier this month, pursuing its mission of financial freedom for all. If you didn’t get a chance to meet her and learn about The Fool Foundation, you must have missed the first weekly podcast of this month entitled, Introducing The Motley Fool Foundation. You should go back and listen to it or visit us at foolfoundation.org. Guest number 4 is my wife, Margaret. Well, first off at about a dozen ways, Margaret, helped me and Tom found The Motley Fool and keep it going from the [laughs] earliest days to now. She raised three routable, now adult children. She recently completed a Masters in Theological Studies from Wesley Seminary in Washington DC, and now serves as an associate for small group ministry and adult education at National Presbyterian Church. Finally, on a personal note, now seven years in, Margaret is finally making her Rule Breaker Investing podcast debut this week. Guest Number 5 is my friend Vennard Wright. Vennard has for a few decades, served as a Chief Technology Officer for several organizations in the greater Washington DC area. He is today the Chief Executive Officer of Wave Welcome. He has four kids, including a marine and at least one track star, but also has mentored so many more. You can find him at wavewelcome.com. Dinner is served.

Michael Hebb: Well, the best way to start just about anything is by starting. This group of five new friends are gathered around a virtual table tonight. Those are people listening to us from around the world, we’re not in the same place. Something for you to notice. But we are looking into each other’s eyes and for those of us that are around this table, because we don’t have the smell of the same food being cooked on the stove, I’m going to have some imagine, just a quick scenario. People can close their eyes or they can keep them open. But because this is about dinner and it is about connecting with each other. Even those of you who are listening, we can all do this together. Just take a deep breath. It’s important that we actually get present. We’re humans, about to have a very human conversation. Then I just want you to imagine that you’re in a beautiful home, like a place that really just signifies home to you.

The whole day there have been beautiful smells coming out of the kitchen and now we’re sitting around a table, has candle lite, it feels comfortable. It feels a place we want to be and there has been some wine port, there have been a few laughs, and now we’ve settled in. The food is on the table but we’ve been instructed to not start eating yet because first we have to do something very important. Every death dinner that has ever happened starts with a very simple ritual. Those of you who have your eyes still closed, you can open them again. We’re now at the table on our mind, but also looking at each other here. [laughs] But the way that we start these dinners and the way we’re going to start tonight is a very, very old ritual or a gesture or wonderful thing to do and that’s by honoring an ancestor. The way that we do it at death over dinner is if you have a candle that’s close to you, we’re going to ask that when it’s your turn that you’ll lighted, you’re going to think of somebody that has died. Sometimes you say somebody we’ve lost, someone who’s not with us, but those words aren’t really right. Somebody who has died. We want to use words that are actually emblematic of what we’re talking about tonight.

Think of somebody who has died that had a positive, powerful impact in your life. This can be somebody who is in your family, somebody you knew. Some people actually talk about celebrities that had a profound impact on them when they died, or a pet. It doesn’t have to be limited to just your grandmother or your mother or somebody who is close to you. Because not everyone has experienced death that’s close to them. The first thing to note is that you might have somebody come to mind and then you might think, oh that’s a little bit too emotional or too fresh or too raw. I’m going to ask that you actually honor that person by talking about the first-person that comes to mind. This is going to be popcorn style and we’re going to hear some people that are going to talk over each other, and someone is going to say, “Excuse me, you’ve.” But there is no order tonight. But we will go around to everybody for this beginning introduction. I hope that those that are with us tonight will say their name first, we can start to get to know their voice and their name. Then talk about that person, but I wanted to be just a minute-long. This going to be the shortest, deepest eulogy. [laughs] Focus on what the person meant to you. What was the impact they have in your life, and tell us their name. Once you’re done talking about them, somebody else can talk-in, and you can light a candle on their honor. I’m just going to open up to whoever wants to go first.

Vennard Wright: I’ll start. The person that I’m going to honor is my maternal grandfather, John William Senior. He passed away at this point almost 26 years ago. When I was in college, I lived with him, and it was a rough experience for me because he was a very uncompromising man. I never thought I would miss him the way that idea when he passed. But after he passed, I did realize the void that he left as a result of passing. The reason I still miss my grandfather so much is because, just being perfectly honest, and my friend David knows this is how I am, I was a screw up that time. I know that the part of the reason he was so hard on this because he wanted to see me do better. One of the things I wish is that he lived long enough to see the success in my career and otherwise. That’s part of the reason I’m honoring my grandfather, John William Senior.

David Gardner: Thank you, Vennard and I’ll go next. This is David Gardner and I’m going to light a candle for my mother, my mother, Mary [inaudible] Murphy, her maiden name, and then Gardner, and then MacDill. She remarried toward the end of her life. The reason I’m going to light a candle for my mother’s because well, all the maternal things and you can’t express in a day let alone a minute all the things you might want to say about your mother or father. But in particular, she died in a way that was very admirable to me. She forsook extreme measures. She didn’t even want chemotherapy, she had cancer. She checked into a hotel in New York City, her favorite hotel, and she spent our last six months of her life there and with the permission of the hotelier. But it was a demonstration to her kids and a lot of her friends that going out on your own terms, it’s a little bit of a heroic thing and something that I so appreciate. Lighting it for my mom, Mary [inaudible] .

Jennifer Gennaro Oxley: This is Jennifer and I’m going to take that queue David and Vennard, thank you for sharing. Because mine, the person I’m honoring is my godmother, my aunt Carolyn. She is my mom’s sister. The reason I’m honoring her is because she was the first person to tell me at 13 to get on that plane and come down and see her by myself. I think, though there are so many things she instilled in me, one is and I will say quickly that in order to move forward in your life, you need to challenge yourself. Getting on that plane by myself was the way to do it. But what I walked into was the most loving person on the planet who always knew I could do it and I always knew that I was going into a place of extreme love from her. Though she died, unfortunately not on her own terms and way, way too early, she certainly taught me that very important lesson of being free and taking chances. That there’s always someone most often there’s someone like that that will love you unconditionally regardless of what path you take.

Margaret Gardner: This is Margaret Gardner and I’d like to honor my name stake who was my paternal grandmother, also, Margaret. She was born into a family of seven girls. She had three boys, and her first two boys had boys. I was the first girl in her family over all. We were very close. We’ve talked about the hospitality and the table. She taught me what it meant to serve others and to create a welcoming atmosphere, to be a good listener. She was actually born in 1896. She had my father very late in life and I felt a connection to history to her, which I really prized. She was southerner, she was a great storyteller and herself told a lot of stories about history and storytelling aspect is also something that I came to love through her.

Dan Simons: I need a deep breath. This is Dan, I will light my candle. The person that I’m honoring is my brother-in-law. He was killed in a helicopter crash 15 years ago and he was just remarkable. An endless supply of patience and wisdom. Seemingly at any age has been in my life since I was probably seven or eight. Started dating my sister when they were teenagers and they were married for decades before he was killed. I don’t know if he went out on his own terms, but he was a helicopter pilot. I think he went out on his own terms. While I don’t think it was his exact plan, I’m grateful for having had him in my life for so long, and even his death has a element of being a gift to me. I’m appreciative to have this group to think about it.

Michael: It’s beautiful and back to me, this is Michael. My father always shows up. I’m going to light a candle to my dad. My dad was born in 1904. For those of you who can’t see me, I’m now at 75. But he was 72 when I was born. His name is Paul. He was born in 1904 and a minor shed in the Yukon territory during the gold rush. He was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was in second grade and he died when I was 13. He is really who this work is dedicated to in so many ways. My family was left behind, didn’t know how to talk about death and grief. I think he did, but the Alzheimer took that from him. We didn’t have the opportunity to have open conversations as a family. But one thing that he taught me was how to be in nature, but it it was even more than a Master Class. He was a bit of a snow white. He would literally speak to animals. On multiple occasions, birds would fly out of trees onto his fingers and spend some time chirping at him. This was frequent. [laughs] How to be in nature was a thing that I learned from him. I honor him as much as I possibly can, Paul Hebb.

We’re going to move on to our first question. Those of you tuning in, hopefully you are imagining our table now lit with candles that are honoring these incredible folks that came before us. I’m going to give you a little bit of the commentary on how these dinners come together in the sense. We start with a question you’ve heard before. Not necessarily the shallow end of the pool. Because there’s even these everyday questions that we’ve run into can evoke some pretty strong emotions. But we want to start with something that’s almost a little bit more of an ice breaker. That could be something like, what’s on your bucket list. Why haven’t you completed it? What would the last meal you want to eat? But today we’re going to talk about because we are in your ears and you’re listening to us, we’re talking about music. We’re going to talk about a song and a song that you would want to have performed at your funeral or memorial, or wake or whatever gathering that is going to happen after you die. There’s a real practical side to this. A lot of people don’t get this information from their loved ones. There are some infights that happen around. But I think dad would want x, y, and z. [laughs] A little practical bit at the core of it. The question is, what song would play at your memorial. If there is somebody in particular that comes to mind that you would like to have performing. That could be somebody famous or somebody in your family. This is fantasy world, but it also might be very practical. We’ll just go around popcorn style. Whoever wants to answer this question,.

Dan: I will jump in here. This is Dan. I definitely would want Bruce Springsteen, Born to run, and I love that you asked who I’d want to perform it because I would want my nieces and nephew to perform it. When they were really young, I paid each of them. I offered them a $20 each if they would memorize the lyrics. I thought I’m not a very effective parent, but I got somehow give these kids that I’m raising some important things in life. I think they need to know the lyrics to some Springsteen. [laughs] I think that’s what I would want played and how I would want it performed, it would be a nice culmination.

Michael: I’m going to do a quick follow-up and this is to everyone. We got a little bit of the why. But why that song?

Dan: There’s just something about Springsteen, that when I hear his voice, specifically, I hear those lyrics. Well, it isn’t exactly my exact story.

We got to get out of here and we got to go do whatever we’re capable of. We got to get after it. We got to get to it. We’re born to get to it. That’s the message that I’ve always taken from that, and I still do. Life is for living until you’re dead and then you’re dead.

Vennard: I’ll go next. This is Vennard. For me, it will be Take Five by Dave Brubeck. As far as who performs it since Dave Brubeck won’t be able to performing it himself, I would love to have the Marsalis brothers perform it. If I were able to pull that off. The reason I’d love to have Take Five performed, is everything about that song is off balance. That’s really the way that I try to live my life to keep people off balance side. One of the jokes I have with my insurances, be careful around me because I want you to stay on your toes. I’m always going to try and surprise you. That’s really what I hear in that song. I’d love for that to be my final thoughts.

Jennifer: Vennard, this is Jennifer. Glad we know that about you now now that we’re on the rest of this podcast. [laughs]. I will try not to keep it together.

Vennard: Absolutely.

Jennifer: My song, Always and Forever is September by Earth, Wind, and Fire. But if I had my two others, it would be with Maurice White, who is also passed. He was one of the founders, but the other three are still there. Because, a couple of things, one, I was born in September. B, I think my birthday is a national holiday. [laughs] As my husband said, it’s the only thing I actually care about personally when I’m not taking care of others all year. I think the third thing is, no matter what venue I’ve seen Earth, Wind, and Fire, no matter where, that song brings people together of all ages, all culture, all ethnicities, it doesn’t matter. That they, Earth, Wind, and Fire have a way of bringing people together. That song is just very much around how I live my life, and that’s largely what I do. Yeah, plus it’s just so darn fun. That’s the other piece. Just gets you up and moving. That’s my song, but I love the other two as well.

David: I’m not as musically oriented, I think as the average person. I really had not thought about this too much, Michael, even though I’ve read your book and loved your book, and I probably should have expected this, but it’s a reminder that I need to think about this going forward. I will say that a song that I’ve always loved. I don’t know if we would be able to get Idina Menzel together to team up with Kristin Chenoweth, and real act Defying Gravity from Wicked. But I’ve always loved that song because I’m through accepting limits because someone says there’s some things I cannot change, but till I try never know. Its beautiful lyrics is important if those who loved the musical Wicked and I’m a big fan of Broadway musicals know that it’s a core song. It ends the first act. Something important happens, no spoilers to the wicked witch, so-called of the west. But I loved the idea of Defying Gravity. A lot of people don’t think you could ever beat the market. It would be just luck to beat the market averages. Anything that challenges conventional wisdom. If you look at my Twitter profile, you’ll see my quotas. If you care to find me, look to the western sky.

Margaret: I’m taking notes, David. I’ll be right now. What we need to do?

David: It’s a fun dynamic to have a couple. Michael mentioned, it’s fun to have a husband and wife. Margaret, I’m not pre-requesting that. Really, this is more of a wake-up call for me to be more intentionally here.

Margaret: I think it’s mind opening for both of us. Since I work within the church, I had more conventional hymns, some already picked out, but I’m a huge Earth, Wind, and Fire fan. I love the idea of bringing that all of us together with that. Probably something that speaks to those who are there. If it is in a church, Amazing Grace or an Ode To Joy, that recognizes that the funeral service, or the memorial, or the remembrance of life is much for the people who are there than it is for me, which I think everyone there recognize. It’s how we want to be remembered, but what brings light and hope to those who are saying goodbye.

Michael: Yeah. I think that’s a beautiful reminder and Vennard, I’ve got it just share a quick reflection. One of my favorite musical moments of all time is when I got to see Dave Brubeck and his son play Take Five together. I was like 17 years old at a jazz festival sitting just feet away from them.

Vennard: I’m jealous [laughs].

Michael: But my song today, and these things change as you step your foot in this river so often. But this is pretty common one that comes up for me, and it’s David Bowie Starman. I would want a full sing along with song books out to everybody. There’s two reasons why, and I’ll keep it brief. But one, that song has this real look back over your shoulder from the other side and wink, and smile, quality about it. It really is letting people know it’s all going to be OK, and I’m in a good spot. Because I actually think that it’s going to be a wild ride when we all die, and a good one. The other reason is when I found out that David Bowie died, I cried my face off. I literally started sobbing. I was sitting in a cafe when I realized it, because Bowie was playing and I saw a post on a friend’s Facebook feed, the brightest light in the universe has gone out today. I put the two and two together, and just started sobbing. I’ve never been impacted by a celebrity death. I didn’t even consider myself the biggest Bowie fan. But there’s something about that man’s life and not having one in the planet that impacted me so deeply. We’re going to move on to a question that we might not get all the way around the table with. We’ll see because it’s a big question. The question is a little bit more of a context, like receiving news. Only six of us here just received the news that we only have 30 days left to live. The first question is, how do you feel? Second question is, what are you going to do with your 30 days? Then, what is your last day like? Who’s around you? Where are you? How are you feeling? Now before we jump in, let’s just imagine that you’re going to be well of mind and body up until the last day. It’s not always the case obviously. But there are a lot of people out there that do get very short prognosis, very short life expectancy. The first thing to really focus on, you’ve just found out you have 30 days left to live, and you can continue through the other parts of this question as well, but how do you feel?

David: Utterly shocked.

Michael: Let’s just go around the whole table. Let’s just talk about how we feel first, and then we’ll talk about what we’re going to spend those states doing. What’s that first hit?

Margaret: I thought I’d be ready, but am I?

Dan: I think I would have to piggyback on what Margaret said. It’s not so much that I’m afraid of it. Just wondering if I’m ready, if the people around me are ready. Yeah. I think I would say I’m OK, and then terribly sad and worried for everybody else’s.

Jennifer: I think I would guess, and I would say, angry and grateful. Angry because I want to live. I love life for thousand reasons, and grateful because I’ve been so lucky in life.

Michael: It’s beautiful. Generally, and it’s Michael again, my response to this over the last 10 years has been a strange piece about getting that news. But as I’m thinking about it right now, I would not go gently [laughs] that good night. It’s mostly because I’m really, really in love with somebody. It’s still relatively new. It’s a year-and-a-half, and I’m not OK with that. We’re just getting started. I’d have a real problem with this news. Now go a little bit longer. Somebody just walk us through, what are you going to do with that time? What are you going to do with the 30 days? Then take us all the way till your last day and where are you and who’s around you?

Vennard: This is Vennard. I will jump in on that one. For me, if I know I have 30 days, all rules are out the window. I will stop exercising, number one. [laughs] I will eat everything unhealthy they say will shorten your life span. That means ribs, potato chips, lots of liquor. I mean, I will [laughs] have a good time for the last 30 days. That will, I guess wind down to the last day where I’d love to have as many of my loved ones around me as possible. I’d like to have individual time with each one of them. Certainly, I guess culminating with my kids and my wife. I’d like to really explain a lot of, I guess, my interactions over the years. If I was hard on them, here is why I was hard on them, here’s the potential I saw on you. With my wife just she be the last person I’d want to spend time with, because I just want to let her know that she has been incredible. I do wish, to your point, I have longer with her. But that’s really the way I would conduct myself. Certainly, having a great time going up to the last day, but the last day making sure that people, there is no ambiguity around the way that I felt about each one of them.

David: I think it’s natural to start thinking about what I would want to do, last-minute bucket list, that thing. But really, having listened to the wisdom of the crowd here. I think a lot of it is just about making sure as many people that you care about are OK with this and understand, and will proceed forward in a healthy way. I think it’s about having conversations. It’s not climbing that last mountain, I don’t think. If and when this happens to me, I want to make sure that I have spent the time to say the things and capture those things maybe for my great grandchildren. Part of doing a podcast is in just some ways, I think, any of my great grandkids could go back and listen to what we’re saying right now. I love if that legacy exists. But I might want to create that a little bit more. But more than anything I think, it’s about those human connections and making sure everybody understands and how it’s going to go from here.

Michael: What about your last day there, where you?

David: Well, it’s always so important to me to be in beautiful places, that’s always been so inspiring and uplifting. I’m pretty sure I’m at the beach. Probably in the state of North Carolina where Margret and I met as graduates of UNC Chapel Hill. I love looking out at the ocean. Maybe we’re scaring or alarming some of the other people around the beach because we have a whole gathering here, and I’m dying [laughs] in front of the surf. But I think we’re there just because it’s so uplifting to look up into the blue sky and then across and an endless horizon.

Margret: One thing I appreciate from your book, Michael, is your emphasis on preparing people also just for the decisions that need to be made around the end. If I haven’t gotten them together yet, I hope by then maybe I will have a meaningful funeral crafted and our service that will bring others in in a way that they feel comfort in that. I think for me there is a little bit of a bucket list. The opportunity to bring together, as David was picking up of his podcast, a bit of a legacy and speaking forward. I have a lot of notes of unfinished poems and things, and I’m like, “Okay, I keep that up.” Maybe I will actually take the time to draw some of those together and put together a little chat book or something that is a way of sharing my thoughts and my story of my family going forward. The last day I will probably be with David on the beach. [laughs] Like I hope we go out together.

David: Well, but if we did Margret, it’s funny because you’ve been writing poems for years now and I’m not sure where you keep them or what do you even say.

Margret: I said that’s why I got 30 days to get this done for you. [laughs]

David: I mean, it’s amazing. I know there are various famous poets, maybe George Herbert was one of them, one of Margret favorite poets, who in their own lifetime, no one knew they were writing poetry. Then, it’s all there. Posthumously, they become the famous poet from the 15th-16th, 19th century or 21st century. I think I probably should connect before you die though.

Michael: Let’s get some light on those poems. [laughs].

David: [inaudible] I hear you.

Jennifer: My grandmother used to say in good marriages, you don’t know everything about each other and that’s OK. [laughs]

Michael: I love it.

Jennifer: Surprises all your life is a good thing. [laughs] This is Jennifer, I will say for me, my husband and I are late parents. The first thing that comes to mind is that we are almost 50 this year, which we’re very excited about. However, I have children, a child who’s under five. I would worry about them having the roadmap they need and the confidence to know they have to love and all of that. I think that would be for me the first thing I would do in that 30 days is. But I think I would probably do it in a way where we all experience something new, something that pulls us out of our comfort zone. Jumping out of a plane comes to mind, but you don’t do that with a five-year old. But something like that, that feels very unifying with all of the people around me, especially my brother who is one of my best friends. I mean, those things, I think that brings us out of our comfort zones together, but we unify through a new experience. I think the other piece for me in those 30 days is to continue on with how I feel about being a servant leader. Is the thing that we’ve set up in life going to do well for others? Is it going to continue? In whatever way it’s supposed to and just assuming that we’ve set it up so well, during our time, every day, not just in that last month, that it actually just continues on its own.

I think that’s part of this, the answer to this question, for me Michael, is around, are we living every day in a way that doesn’t put too much pressure on ourselves but set things up. Set things in motion for the future so that it’s not always about what you have to do in the last month? The last month you can actually not have fun, go out there and do your thing, finish your poems. Whatever it is that you want to do. I would hope that what we’ve set up so far just is going to be successful, specifically for other people. Then I think I would do something out of the box with my family on a regular basis and live it up. I think the last day I would absolutely be with my husband and my kids and my immediate family, we’re extremely close. But one thing my father-in-law did not do when he passed and I love him dearly is, I had gotten him a book and I asked him to write something to my son, and he chose not to. Now he’s a public figure and my son will see a lot of video on him. My son will see a lot of laws around him. But he will not have that note from him. I learned a lesson from that, he was too broken up about dying soon to do it, but it is something that I would not repeat, I think I would write that thing to my kids, et cetera, so they had that moving forward. If that’s helpful to them, and I hope it is.

Michael: It’s beautiful.

Dan Simons: I’m glad we’re having wine with dinner. I’m thinking about switching to bourbon, which, by the way, I did set myself up. For clarity, I do have a bottle of bourbon here as well. I think I would take these last 30 days. You’ll see, I do like to be organized. My mind went to 30 days. I could cut each one and a half, that gives me 60. I could map this out and I could get the list of the folks, friends, and family that are most important to me. Then I would look to spend one-on-one time with that core group thinking about trying to leave nothing unsaid and nothing unheard. Just trying to learn from what I hear people when they talk about death and obviously, we only talk to the living about death. I often hear people say, “I should have said.” Maybe I could use this time not just to say what I want to make sure that the people that I love and care about here, but I would want to do my best to make sure nobody carries any burden and just the opposite. I would want to help them carry only the positive.

Fine, I’ll be dead and gone, but they’ll still be here. I would want to use that time in whatever way makes them lightest and best for the time they have left. Then I would definitely take some time. I have three kids, teenagers now, three boys. I would want to record some messages. Well, that makes me sad actually just thinking about it. For the milestones ahead for them. I’m going to take a sip of wine. I think that would be nice for them. Then in my last day, I would want us to all go skiing together. I think you can do with all generations. My mom still skis, she’s in her ’80s. I would hope she wouldn’t be here for this. There is no word for someone losing a child. I would want that to occur after she is dead, but we could just ski. Then I could just evaporate into one of the back bowls, where sometimes my kids may think I’m not coming back from anyways since they’re now all better skiers than me. Then they could have that joy of such a positive memory forever of skiing together.

David: I love what you just said, Dan and what Jennifer said earlier. Each of you talking about having a moment that people will remember forever. That they were there with you whether it’s skiing or jumping out of a plane or whatever it is. I don’t know what my signature moment would be, but thinking about that is worth worthwhile.

MALE_2: Absolutely, and to underscore the idea of communicating with our kids. To leave something behind that is specifically for them. If my dad would have done that, left a recording that was dedicated to me or a piece of writing, you can imagine that would be one of the most read things in my life, for any of our lives if we had that. That’s a reminder from the dead to the living to some extent [laughs] and we don’t have to wait for it quite frankly. Because time isn’t promised. I will share just one quick thing that comes up from me around the 30 days before we move onto the next question. I’m going to borrow from the world of destination weddings. Destination weddings are brilliant because they really separate, they filter out people. [laughs] Looks like Jennifer had one. [laughs]

Jennifer: I did.

Michael: The more remote, the more the person has to really be committed to that wedding. I like this idea of placing myself in New Zealand or something like that. [laughs] Being like, I really want to spend time with you, all the people in my life that are close to me. Let them know, “Hey, I’m going to be here for 29 days and if you make your way to New Zealand we’re going to spend some really quality time together.” [laughs] Just see who shows up, [laughs] make sure my family’s there. Then, of course, the final day would be a much smaller circle and it would be very much near water, and hopefully, in the mountains. I think this going to be our last question tonight. This one’s asked, also, a bit of a practical one. It could be a bit of a fun one. You guys are already seeing that there is laughter. There’s been some tears.

This is a conversation topic that has all the colors of the rainbow, but the last question is about what happens to your body? We live in a remarkable time when it comes to death care. Your body can obviously be buried. It can be cremated. You can be now composted in many states, turned into soil within three weeks, and then put into a beautiful garden. You can be planted in a Redwood Grove in certain conservation easements. You can be turned into a diamond quite literally. A bit of your cremated remains or even just your hair if you don’t want to be cremated can be turned into a diamond. You can be turned into beautiful polished stones. One of my favorite things, parting stone. You can be shot into space and you can be turned into a coral reef quite literally and to a reef that rebuilds other reefs, which is extraordinary. There are a lot of options. [laughs]

David: How expensive is it to be shot into space. That’s sounds expensive.

Michael: I don’t know. I think Elon Musk is shooting things into space every day. [laughs] Throw a little something outside of a rocket. But nonetheless, what happens to your body?

Vennard: This is Vennard. I’ve gone back and forth about what I want to happen after I die. I used to say I was going to donate my body to science until I heard horror stories about some of the medical students. That’s off the table. Just going to be perfectly honest. That’s not going to happen.

David: Vennard what was the horror story?

Vennard: Just how they were playing with the body. I granted I wouldn’t be coherent to see it. But at the same time I just didn’t like the thought of that. For me, the next thing was just to make sure that I cut down on expenses as much as possible. I was looking at cremation as an option, but after listening to the option of turning into a coral reef, I’d love to have that happen. I’ve had a fish tank constantly since I’ve been 12 years old. I really love the ocean. I love fish. I have a small water feature outside. I’ve stopped saying it’s a pond because I’ve gone to people’s houses and seen real ponds. I wouldn’t consider mine a pond, but I just love fish and I love the idea of being able to contribute to nature, which I absolutely love. I’m going to look into that one and see if it’s possible for me to become a coral reef.

Dan: I have to say now I think I want to be a coral reefs in Vennard’s fish tank. [laughs]

Michael: Are you ready for that, Vennard?

Vennard: Absolutely, I am. [laughs]

Dan: I’m an organ donor on my driver’s license. That’s I hope the first thing that happens. Then I think I’m good with the cremation, or frankly, as Vennard said, the least expensive, easiest to deal with things and then I’m happy to have my ashes planted in the garden. I know that I still have the ashes of several of our dogs in little boxes up on the shelves. Part of that is lovely and then part of that is like, what do we do with this? My dad’s ashes are in the garden under a tree. That’s good because that’s where they are. What’s going to happen one day with those dogs ashes. I don’t want anyone that my family that survives me to have to deal with me in some form. Spread me in the garden.

Michael: Yeah. I think that the statistic I heard is that there are 30 million Americans with ashes in the boxes. They came in from the cremation center, from crematoriums still in a closet, somewhere. But not in something that is giving them honor. There’s a lot of that.

Dan: I think that the direction for the family that survives me is key. I don’t want anyone to have to be thinking about what that decision is. For me it’s written down, they have that answer and they can just do that without having to decide if they should be able to figure out what that is. For me in my mind, that’s too much of a burden.

Jennifer: Well, I love to go the coral reef except the last time I went to the Caribbean, I ended up cutting my arm on a coral reef and getting stitches. I’m going to, even though I fully love coral reefs, [laughs] we’re actually going to go in that direction. Yes, I’m an organ donor. This is Jennifer. But I will say that I often think about it from the perspective of grief. We all know that if there’s another old say for my grandmother, “If you go around grief, it will stick with you for your life. If you go through grief, you will find the sun.” When she said that to me, I thought, “What’s the best way other than communicating and planning and preparing and making sure everyone knows the plan?” For me, that was cremation. Because with my aunt, Carolyn, back to the original personal I’m still honoring with this candle, being able to spread her ashes where she wanted it to go, we all felt wonderful together on the beach that she was at. It released my spirit and it allowed me to go through the grief versus going around it. I thought of it from the perspective of the person that’s going to be experiencing the grief, which all of our loved ones. I will tell you my husband is doing the opposite. [laughs] He’s going to. [laughs] It was an interesting conversation with us, are we together or aren’t we? Ultimately we chose not to be because I really believe in this grief piece and he really wants to be next to his father. There is this. I may shift as to where my ashes are spread closer to him. It was an interesting conversation between my husband and me. As we are older parents, we had to do all of this a little while ago.

Michael: Yeah. The beauty of ashes, I will just let you know is you can pass them out. A nice ceremonial earned [laughs] at the head of [laughs]. Wow, it’s true.

Jennifer: Thank you for that.

Michael: Yeah, of course.

Margaret: I’m a big gardener. I love the compost option. I do. Vennard, I heard what you were saying about feeling that I think the body, although it is no longer in regular use and we’re ashes to ashes, dust to dust, but it needs to be respected. I think that’s something that goes way back to ancient cultures about concerns with burying the dead. I do think that I would want to do it in a way that everybody in the family was comfortable with in terms of composting me. Then Dan, as you said, designate particular garden in which to use that compost as a way to enrich the soil in that place. Because it is helpful when you let the family know where you’d like to be and in fact, David mentioned his mother earlier. Her ashes were in a garage for a long time.

David: More than a year.

Margaret: She didn’t leave any direction. She did die very suddenly and was ill toward the end and probably just didn’t have the opportunity to think that through for us or just wasn’t her focus. I was like guys, we got to come up with a place. It just feels disrespectful to leave them on a shelf in the garage. But his family came up with a great idea.

David: Yes, it was. We don’t live too far from Mount Vernon, George Washington’s about here in Northern Virginia. We took an Episcopalian priest who’s a dear friend of the family members and cousins. We snuck onto the property. Well, actually we legitimately paid our past to go to Mount Vernon that day, 10 years ago or so. We found a gorgeous tree just about 50 yards from Mount Vernon. We snuck under the tree and set a quick right and scatter moms ashes right there. Don’t tell anybody in Mount Vernon by the way. [laughs] Because I’m not sure what we did was allowed, but it’s what happened. In fact that Episcopalian priest was very impressive since written a book of his memoirs and included that as a short chapter [laughs] because he was a subversive. That’s what we loved about him. So was my mother, it made a lot of sense for us.

Margaret: She loved Mount Vernon.

David: She did.

Margaret: It was one of the places on earth. It was in view of the Potomac where she used to stand and paint.

David: That’s right. She was a gardener like Margaret as well. Margaret, I think I’d want to be near you. Wherever you are, I think that’s where I am in. [laughs] I’ve always just imagined the traditional burial. I don’t know. One thing is for sure Michael, I’ve not actually finally decided this, but I think just being buried as Mike Corp’s and allow me just to go to cede over the course of time. But more than anything I think about a headstone that celebrates Margaret and me and probably has some gesture element to it. If over the course of time it got robbed, and maybe over the course of time start to erode because people came and robbed it for good luck for their stock market. [laughs] Maybe they come by and there’s a janitor and there’s an opportunity to rob it. It gets worn down over time. It gives people joy and a sense that investing is going to work for them, which I sure hope it does for everybody. That’s where I am right now on this.

Michael: That’s funny that we think of headstone as old fashioned in some sense. The cutting-edge research around grief for at least the most recognizing knowledge thinking around grief, is that something like a headstone, some place that you can visit, something that is palpable to continue a relationship with the person that has died is actually the healthiest way through grief. It’s not about getting back to normal, it’s not about integrating. It’s not about these five stages, that there are no five stages of grief. Elizabeth could reverse yourself disavowed that idea before she died. Grief is messy. But one thing that does really help is a continuing bond or a continuing relationship and seen in religions and traditions and cultures throughout time. I love all of these ideas. For me, for my body, my favorite thing is these stones that you can make, it’s called parting stone. They take your cremated remains and they turn, they use all of them and they are turned into these beautiful polished stones that are whatever color you come out of the process of being cremated. There’s a variety of colors that come out of the crematoriums. Then you have about 40 stones that can be given to loved ones. You can say who to divide it among, where to put them or leave it open. But is that comic tragic image of people trying to cast ashes. Then they’ll gust of wind comes up and also near eating grandma. [laughs] It’s not just something you see in Hollywood. It really is a thing. [laughs] It doesn’t take much wind to catch hold of ashes. Just be aware. People are like, we’ll do it on a boat in the ocean. News for you, the ocean’s windy. [laughs].

David: Windy.

Michael: Windy. Yeah. Wave generate wind themselves too. [laughs] We’ll leave you with that image. But there is that we’ve gone through a few questions and we’re going to close the dinner on the table in the way that we ask all people to host these. Just a note to the listener. I pick some questions from the hub but the website that’s overdinner.org. asked you a leading question. Since essentially why do you want to have this dinner have so many loves received a terminal diagnosis? Are you grieving? Are you just a young family or a young person or any age person just thinks this is a great idea or spiritually or philosophically interesting? It asked you that basic question, the why of it. When you answer that question for multiple choice, it creates a script for you. The script consists of pretty much what we’re doing tonight, but its custom-generated or around the why. The last thing, that’s just something to know. You don’t have to come up with these questions. They’re baked in for you. You get a full script for how the evening goes plus the invitation language that you can use. Because it’s a weird thing to invite people to enter to. [laughs] Here’s a great little lift for you and we’ll describe it for you so that you can send them in email or however you want to, to people you want to have come to dinner. The last thing that we do, the way that we’ve had all of these dinners and around the world is something called an appreciation. What we call an appreciation in the round. It’s very simple. It’s a great way to stop thinking about death and going into the rest of our day evening flashlight.

The way it would work at a table is somebody gets inspired to say something they appreciate or admire or noticed about a person who’s sitting to their left. We just have a moment of silence and somebody says, I have something to say about the person sitting to my left, and they say something pretty short, some appreciation. Then that person turns to the person on their left and they goes around tell everybody but it has been appreciated once and we teach people how to take in an appreciation. You don’t try to deflect it, you just say thank you. You don’t then in turn appreciate them and there’s just taking it in. Some people’s first-time that they’ve actually properly received an appreciation. [laughs] We don’t know how to do that, well. Tonight, because we’re not sitting around the table, we’ll just have whoever wants to start pick somebody and looks like David hand is up and he is going to appreciate somebody, and then you pick somebody who hasn’t been appreciated yet and we’ll go daisy-chain all the way around the circle.

David: Well, thank you, Michael, and you’re sitting to my left tonight. Thank you so much even though I’m in one Washington and you’re in another Washington, I feel so connected to you and I’ve so grateful for the time that you’ve given our listeners this month. Last week’s interview with you about your book, let’s talk about death over dinner, was a highlight for me. Being able to do this with this group of friends is an even bigger highlight for me. Michael, you have made this possible for us tonight. You have done this thousands and now by association, millions of times. I appreciate you and what you’re doing. As soon as I heard about your book, I thought that’s a great talent, I want to read that. Now having read that, I know the power of what we’ve shared this week. In fact, I got a tweet. This is from add sunflower markets, I don’t know markets. But this is just a simple reminder of the importance of your work and what you’re doing. This came just yesterday to me, reflecting on last week’s podcast with you. Marcus said, thank you so much for last week’s podcast, it was the most important one, the most timely. I was in the room on Thursday when my grandpa passed away, I’m having trouble sleeping, I’m haunted and terrified, but I know I need to talk about death. Marcus, I’m pretty sure you’re listening to us right now I hope you know you’re right and we’ve got an all-star in the room with us all here this week and his name is Michael Hebb and his work and what he has enabled us to share tonight with so many of you. Michael, you were sitting on my left tonight.

Michael: Well, that makes it might turn, thank you, David. Jennifer, you’re more or less on my left, there’s a little bit of a bump in the road, but we’re going to get over to the left and folks don’t have to continue with the left but I actually did want to acknowledge Jennifer. There was a vulnerability about what you shared tonight in relationship to your father-in-law and a disappointment. That’s a hard thing to share and how you wanted to make sure that that experience was different when it came to you. But the reason why I think it’s so important to share things with such vulnerability and also grace. But specifically the vulnerability around it is it’s healing for us personally to be able to say those things. But it also gives other people permission to think, feel, and say things that they might think are hard to say. Thank you for doing that. It impacted me and I’m sure it impacted a lot of our listeners.

Jennifer: Thank you, Michael. I really appreciate that. I’m going to send an appreciation to Dan. Dan doesn’t know is that I started my career in the hospitality business too, and so I feel you the whole time on here around how focused you are in the human. When you showed your emotion around a topic which not all the men and my life do. They don’t find it as easy to do that. I just really appreciated your vulnerability there. I also love your song, born to run, because it fits who we know of you in the press and now that I know you just a little bit personally, I feel like I can see why you chose that song because you are trailblazer that we love to follow and watch. Speaking of trailblazers, it makes sense about your skiing. All the way around, I just felt this connection with you, but really appreciate your vulnerability and willingness to step out of the box.

Dan: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that. Margaret, I have to say that as I was listening to you, your respect, and acknowledgment, at least the way I absorbed it of tradition or history. There was just a reference in the way that you talked about some things that matter. It struck me in a way that I think I needed to be struck that you helped me think that I shouldn’t just be thinking about myself. That there is a bigger picture, and history matters and tradition matters, and it all matters. Although I don’t know you, I just really absorb that respect and reference and awareness from you and I thought that that was really lovely, so thank you for that.

Margaret: Thank you. Vennard you are to my left and I want to mention that I appreciated so much the way you were willing to jump in. I’m going to pause and think through and find the right answer and you were just ready, but so thoughtful in all of your responses. I think they were fabulous because they show you are a person of deep reflection. Yet always ready to maybe up a little bit. As you said, with your song that you’d like at your service and willing to put yourself forward. I do think your grandfather would be very proud.

Vennard: Thank you. I’d like to thank David as I’ve done before. I had the privilege of meeting David in 2019 through Leadership Greater Washington and we were a part of the same mind trust. Over that time I really got to know David and he’s since become one of my favorite people on earth. I don’t say that lightly. There are several things that I like about David, so it’s not just this conversation. Why I’m appreciative of his friendship is the fact that he pushes me to do better. I do try to make sure I surround myself by people that encourage me in certain directions. As a result of my friendship with David, one of the things he has given me is that I have invested more aggressively. I have tried to pass that message to others. I just appreciate the fact that he’s unapologetic about being a brilliant person, and that is certainly something that I try to make sure is cool. It’s cool to be a nerd and that’s something I get called Vennard a lot. It’s good to have smart friend and I appreciate your friendship David, looking forward to many years together.

David: Thank you Vennard. Last got to talk with you and Dan on this podcast in an uncomfortable conversation we did two years ago and I said to you guys, just before we started tonight, “Whenever we get intense and whenever we go deep, I like this group.” Obviously Dan and Vennard come to mind, but to have Jennifer and Margaret join was so special. Each of you is such a self-confidence, strong voice on your own, each of you I was fascinated waiting to hear what you’d say to each of Michael’s prompts and I felt so rewarded. Thank you, Vennard and thank you each. Thank you, Michael.

Michael Hebb: We did it. You all have survived a destiny.

David Gardner owns Netflix. Jennifer Gennaro Oxley has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Netflix. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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