Everyday Greatness: Helping Young Adults Who Grieve

This nonprofit offers comfort and community by hosting dinner parties for grieving people ages 21-45.

Posted in , Sep 30, 2021

Lennon Flowers, cofounder of The Dinner Party; photo courtesy Lennon Flowers

Who She Is: Lennon Flowers is cofounder of The Dinner Party, a community for people ages 21 to 45 who have lost someone they love. Its roots go back to one evening in 2010, when a small group gathered around a dinner table. “There were five of us,” Lennon recalls. “It was a collection of people Carla [Fernandez, the other cofounder] knew. An old friend from high school. A friend of a friend from college. Somebody she’d met at a bar. Me.”

Lennon had just moved to Los Angeles. She’d met Carla, the dinner’s host, the first day at her new job. The two young women hit it off and discovered they had something in common: Both were struggling with life after loss. Lennon had lost her mother three years earlier to lung cancer. Carla’s father had died six months earlier.

Carla had met a few others their age who were grieving. She invited them all over for dinner. It was a night of conversation, catharsis and healing. Each guest left with the reassur­ance they weren’t alone.

What She Does: Three years and many meals later, Lennon and Carla founded The Dinner Party.

Since 2013, their nonprofit organization has helped bring together more than 13,000 people to break bread and share their grief. “Our work is about building peer-led, collective care,” Lennon says. It’s not therapy. It’s about meeting and relating to people who have also gone through deep loss, which, as Lennon puts it, “inherently opens up an array of spiritual reflections.”

Why She Does It: “There’s so much silence and stigma around the expression of grief in our society,” Lennon says. “The result is, people think that whatever they’re feeling is wrong.”

Lennon learned from her own experience that there’s almost no discussion of death and grief among young adults. Most twenty- and thirty-somethings haven’t experienced such loss—making it very isolating for those who have.

“Say you’re a 26-year-old who’s just lost a partner and you find yourself in a grief support group,” says Lennon. “Often, you’re the only person under 50 there, which can really compound your sense of isolation.” She found that people are more likely to let down their guards and connect over a shared meal. That’s where the healing starts.

How She Does It: Every month, people can check out a list of open tables on The Dinner Party website. Each description includes a bio for that table’s host, as well as a list of themes they’re hoping to explore. The hosts have gone through training on how to start and sustain meaningful conversations. Tables meet up every few weeks to connect and build community.

As of this writing, most tables meet online. “Covid put a temporary end to dinner parties but not an end to grief,” Lennon says. In fact, The Dinner Party has grown by almost 3,000 members since the pandemic began. “One trend we’ve seen in this last year is that people had permission to admit they weren’t okay,” she says. “I hope that continues.”

How You Can Do It: Go to thedinnerparty.org. You can sign up for its Buddy System—where you’ll be paired with a “grief peer”—or see available virtual tables to join. Your donations also help the nonprofit serve its growing community.

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