Where Life, Death, Grief and Hospitality Connect
Thursday, June 27, 2019
By Joan Eisenstodt
This article was originally published on Meetings Today. It is republished here with permission.
Now or next week, at a meeting or event where we are to network and enjoy ourselves — or perhaps in your office — someone, maybe you, are or will be grieving.
Perhaps you have been asked, as I was, to help plan a life celebration for a co-worker or a friend or a family member.
Because sometimes, just as we are asked to help plan joyous events, we are asked — like Alison Bossert (interviewed here) — to help with end-of-life events.
Just like life cycles, thinking for Friday With Joan often goes in unplanned directions. This is part one of a two-part series of blog posts about where hospitality and death intersect.
The second of two blog posts will address how our industry, and one school, is going to help prepare a new generation of industry professionals to work on the one life event that is inevitable: death.
A Lack of Time to Grieve
For years, I’ve researched bereavement policies. It might be because the day after my father (z”l) died, I left on a site inspection trip with a client. My company was new; my client was important; there was to be no service or sitting shiva for my father. It made sense at the time.
Since then, my mom (z”l) and many family and friends died.
I’ve been an observer to, and comforter of, friends, family and colleagues as they managed through death and the rituals associated with those deaths. I’ve seen the time that wasn’t given for grieving, including the stinginess of bereavement policies.
When three friends all unexpectedly died this spring, I felt as if I’d been repeatedly punched in the gut. Even though I’m self-employed and could, theoretically, take time off to grieve, I really couldn’t. Clients’ work, like one’s job, takes precedence too often.
Why Do We Hesitate on Planning for Death?
As I plan a life celebration for one of those friends, it’s an opportunity to look at life cycle events and their impact on each of us as individuals and at our industry and what we can do to learn more and help others — as friends, family and professionals.
There are many people who could benefit from our expertise.
My next blog will explore more life cycle events, some new, that require thoughtful planning and execution. In fact, we might stop pooh-poohing the term “party planner” since many life events are in fact celebratory parties.
We often do little planning for — in fact, are uncomfortable discussing — how we will be remembered, our legacy, how we will or will not provide a format for laughter and tears. In my family, even the word death usually carries “<spit spit>” to ward off negative spirits. Or the word is whispered because if it’s not said out loud, we can pretend it won’t happen. I’ve always wondered why, if death is a part of life and inevitable, we don’t plan the event. We plan events around birthdays and weddings — and even divorces — but too few have or share plans for their deaths.
These articles may help us understand why we don’t talk about death and should:
Neither of my parents wanted any service or memorial.
The Ways in Which We Choose to Grieve
In order to grieve with others, I asked friends to sit shiva for an evening with me after my dad died. Though most in attendance didn’t know my father, it was comforting and funny to tell stories about his life including his behaviors at trade shows. One of my favorite stories, before mobile phones, was when he used a fake phone on a cord in his pocket and a ringer to pretend to get calls in elevators and on the show floor!
For years, my mother said she wanted to have, before she died, a Chinese dinner for 12 just for herself. She never did. With friends’ help, we gathered and had a superb Chinese dinner for 12 and toasted my mother. All in attendance had met Mom some years before and could tell stories.
Later, in my hometown, family and friends gathered over lunch to remember Mom. It helped me and others grieve; laughter mixed with tears of loss allowed us to celebrate her life.
Celebration-of-Life Planning Is Quite Glamorous
When I read this Washington Post article about celebration-of-life planner Alison Bossert, it led to learning of a new program in hospitality, about which I’ll say more here in a later blog.
After reading the Washington Post article, I reached out to Alison of Final Bow Productions, and we connected for a discussion. I am grateful for our long conversation.
Her passion for and understanding of what we don’t do and need to do led me to wonder why those in our industry are not better trained for celebration-of-life events and why more aren’t engaged in helping others at one of the most difficult times of their lives. Celebration-of-life or end-of-life events can have all the glamour many in the industry crave when they say they want to be in events.
You’ll see that from my notes about Alison and interview with her. So, let’s talk about it. Read the notes from the interview with Alison and her own words.
Read more about bereavement policies and the words of surviving family about how they are coping. Life and events are far beyond weddings and conferences. Let’s broaden our thinking and training.
A Special Dedication
This newsletter and blog post are dedicated to three friends — Bev, Chris and Meredith — all of whom died within 10 days of each other this spring. And it is dedicated to BizBash’s David Adler whose father, Warren Adler, also died.
I am indebted to each of the friends and those who loved them for their input and to you, David, for the foresight to ask your father the questions too many of us have no answers to and wish we did for those who have left this life.
I hope others will take your example and record the conversations before it’s too late. Yours, this one from the funeral and this podcast are a gift and a guide to us all.
You can email Joan Eisenstodt at FridayWithJoan@aol.com or connect with her on Twitter @joaneisenstodt.
Tags: ILEA , end-of-life events , end-of-life , events , hospitality