A group of people gather around a table set for a holiday dinner party

 

Written by Jacob Terranova

 

For those facing a recent loss, the holidays sure don’t feel like the most wonderful time of the year.

 

When a family’s loved one dies, their world is transformed forever. And one of the most evident times of loss is during the holiday season — a time typically marked with togetherness and tradition.

 

The little moments that made up the holiday now have a noticeable absence. The annual family trip to grandma and grandpa’s house for Christmas isn’t taken this year, or the sweet smell of mom’s famous sugar cookies doesn’t waft around the room anymore. That hot cup of cocoa as you warm up with your siblings by the fire is a thing of the past.

 

Holiday traditions — big and small — are different after a loss.

 

But some grieving folks are using the one thing they have in common — a recent significant loss — and creating new traditions from it.

 

The Dinner Party

We’ve mentioned before how comfort food can help heal the grieving, so it’s no surprise that a group of 20- and 30-year-olds are putting that mantra in action. They formed the Dinner Party, a gathering for people who feel alone in their loss but want community.

 

The group’s official mission statement reads: “To transform life after loss from an isolating experience into one marked by community support, candid conversation, and forward movement.”

 

And it all takes place at a potluck dinner table.

 

How It Started

The first official “Dinner Party” started in 2010 when five friends were brought together by the grief of their recently deceased parents. The five of them gathered together — cooking their parents’ favorite dishes — and shared stories of how they were changed by their losses.

 

Lennon Flowers, one of the co-founders of the Dinner Party, told CNN that soon “Friends heard about it and more friends heard about it. We heard from people who’d lost siblings and friends and partners, and realized we were less alone than we thought. Slowly, one table became two tables and five tables.”

 

By 2013, the Dinner Party became official. The five friends registered as a nonprofit and opened their tables up to those who wanted to break bread and discuss their grief.

 

And those tables quickly filled up. The group now has around 140 official hosts who have helped connect more than 1,000 strangers in around 50 different cities — from Alaska to Australia.

 

How It Works

The concept behind the Dinner Party remains pretty much the same as when it first started in 2010. Interested guests who want to discuss their grief simply fill out a form to reserve a seat at a table for an upcoming dinner party.

 

While the group currently operates in major metro areas with their official hosts, they encourage anyone anywhere to start their own dinner party — and even offer an official guidebook on how to host a perfect dinner party.

 

The party can take place anywhere, too. It could be a picnic at a park, someone’s house, or at an official venue. Everyone is encouraged to bring a dish, especially something that the deceased would have enjoyed.

 

From there, guests can share whatever’s on their mind.

 

As Flowers said in her interview with CNN, “We’ve found that an experience that’s normally isolating is actually an extraordinary tool for connection: a way to go beneath the surface, and to find meaning and commonality with someone you might not meet otherwise.”

 

How to Get Involved

A small dinner party of your own is a perfect way to help grieving families start new traditions this holiday season. The time of year is typically filled with family reunions, holiday gatherings, and other holiday parties. But for the people in your community facing a recent loss, this time of year can get lonely.

 

Here’s how you can help:

  • You can fill out a form to become an official Dinner Party host in your area (which grants you access to their network and resources).
  • You can organize and throw your own potluck dinner. Invite guests in the community who might otherwise spend the holidays alone and make a new tradition out of it! We’ve got a great list of comfort food cookbooks to get you started.

What are your suggestions for creating new family traditions during the holidays? Share with us in the comments below!