The Bookworm: Talking death and hashing out differences

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Let’s Talk About Death (Over Dinner)”

  • By Michael Hebb
  • c. 2018, Da Capo LifeLong
  • $26, $34 Canada; 246 pages

There’s plenty of food for all. You can see that, and it smells delicious. Your dinner companions are strangers no more, especially since you’ve had plenty of get-to-know-you time and you’ve gotten your nervousness out of the way. And then your host begins the evening; as in “Let’s Talk About Death (Over Dinner)” by Michael Hebb, it’ll be an enlightening meal.

"Let's Talk About Death (Over Dinner)" by Michael Hebb.

After “more than one hundred thousand” dinner conversations held world-wide on behalf of his organization Death Over Dinner, founder Michael Hebb is touched by stories he’s heard. Touched – and bothered. 

Death is something each of us will face; the human mortality rate, Hebb reminds us, is 100 percent, but we don’t like to discuss it with ourselves, our loved ones, or with anyone. Even doctors seem reluctant to talk about it, though it’s an essential topic. Hebb’s dinner parties, and those like them, are changing that, and bestowing gifts “one conversation at a time.”

Studies show that “open conversation … about your end-of-life wishes results in better care, less suffering, and a longer life.” It’s a discussion that can (and should) happen at any time, to ease concerns on both sides of the table. Such talks also tend to take the fear out of a subject that we often prefer not to ponder, they can heal rifts that may have risen through the years, and they can be “liberating.”

"Let's Talk About Death (Over Dinner)" author Michael Hebb.

Having your own Death Over Dinner gathering is easy enough, but preparation is key. Be clear and casual in your invitation, and don’t “pounce on someone”; make sure attendees all know that a non-gruesome adult discussion about death will be involved. Don’t worry too much about the menu or the venue. Remember that you, as host, “are planting seeds.”

And then be ready. Here, Hebb includes many conversation-sparking questions to get Death Over Dinner hosts started: what foods did you share with your departed loved one? What kind of memorial would you have for him or her? Do you think there’s such a thing as too much end-of-life care?  And how would you like your own funeral to be?

This time of year, when you’re heading into the holidays, a dinner party about mortality seems like all kinds of wrong. But then again, you haven’t yet read “Let’s Talk About Death (Over Dinner)”.

Yes, indeed, a sit-down party exclusively for death-talk may seem unseasonably morbid, but once you see what author Michael Hebb espouses, you’ll change your mind. Just dip your toes into the stories Hebb shares, and see how a discussion of death can feel like a discussion of any other life milestone. Note how these stories gently push discomfort aside, easing fears and replacing them with an understanding for the need of calm conversation.

Even if you don’t want to host your own little soirée, this book will help you have That Talk with your loved ones, especially after you see the benefits of doing so. At the very least, “Let’s Talk About Death (Over Dinner) will open your mind with plenty of food for thought.

“Horse Meets Dog”

  • By Elliott Kalan and Tim Miller
  • c. 2018, Balzer + Bray
  • $17.99, $21.99 Canada; 40 pages

What are you today? Obviously, you’re a kid. You’re a boy or a girl, and somebody’s baby. But you could also be a superhero just for the afternoon, or maybe a fireman or dancer or a tiger but you might have to explain that part to a grown-up. As in “Horse Meets Dog” by Elliott Kalan & Tim Miller, it’s easy to get confused.

"Horse Meets Dog" by Elliott Kalan and Tim Miller.

When Dog met Horse, he thought just one thing: that creature standing there was an exceptionally huge dog.

Horse, on the other hand, thought that perhaps Dog was wrong. Horse knew he wasn’t big. Not at all, he was really exactly the size he needed to be. No, he thought that Dog was small – much smaller, in fact, as horses go. He thought that Dog was “just a tiny baby.” A little eensy-weensy baby-sized horse, and he probably needed a nice warm “bottle of hay” so he wouldn’t cry. Ugh.

Dog had to spit out that awful stuff from the bottle, and that was when he noticed Horse’s “weird feet.” They weren’t paws. They were hard and very un-squishy. What happened to Horse’s paws?

Better question, said Horse, is what happened to Dog’s beautiful mane? It would be long and flowing, if he took really good care of it. And Dog’s tail was all wrong, like a short, furry stick. It should be like a “hair waterfall” instead of that pathetic thing Dog had on his bottom.

But they could still be friends, right?  Couldn’t they? So they exchanged gifts but Horse got Dog a horsey present and Dog got Horse a doggy thing and they were awful gifts. Those kinds of presents weren’t a bit of fun for either of them. Ugh again.

Were they wrong? Were they horses – or dogs?  Horses say, “neigh neigh neigh” all day long. Dogs bark. What was going on?  Who will win this argument? And when someone equally weird with funny-looking feet and a strange mane and an odd voice comes poking around, well, what’s really worth arguing about?

Pure silliness. That’s what your young child will get when you’ve got “Horse Meets Dog” around. Pure mistaken-identity silliness.

And that’s perfect for a kid who thrives on that kind of thing, as authors Elliott Kalan and Tim Miller take a simple meeting and turn it upside down with a lot of conclusion-jumping by both of the title characters. Horse and Dog have little-kid-imaginative (and very incorrect) outlooks on one another, and toddlers and preschoolers will clearly see what’s off about that. Indeed, this book is absolutely for them, with its simple artwork, spare narrative and its page-action that invites lingering on a snowy day. If you’re so inclined, it also invites giggles, as both animals vie to take control, and fail spectacularly.

While it’s possible that a new reader may be able to get through this story well-enough, it’s really more for the 3-to-5-year-old book-lover. For youngsters in that age group, “Horse Meets Dog” is perfect, no matter what kind of kid they are.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.