The Death Positive Movement

Most Americans do not talk about how they want to die, though in surveys, it’s been found that 80% of people would prefer to die at home surrounded by loved ones.

Most Americans won’t get that.

Instead, they will die in a hospital, in hospice, or a nursing home. And their family may or may not be there––and in a lot of ways, that person may or may not have been there for a while.

Medical innovation and interventions can keep us alive by definition for months, or years even, though a casual glance by a passerby will have them thinking that person isn’t alive at all.

But the death wellness movement and the “dying well” trend happening across the country is full of people and organizations that want to change that.

What is the Death Positive Movement?

The Death Positive movement represents a cultural shift aimed at challenging societal taboos surrounding death. The movement advocates and facilitates open conversations about mortality, hoping to reduce the stigma associated with death and empower individuals to make informed choices about end-of-life matters. 

By encouraging open discussions, promoting death education, and supporting alternative burial and cremation practices, the Death Positive movement seeks to create a more accepting and compassionate approach to the inevitable end of life.

At the heart of the Death Positive movement is a commitment to changing cultural attitudes towards death. By encouraging openness and transparency, empowering individuals to make end-of-life decisions proactively, and embracing alternative practices, the movement strives to transform how society engages with mortality. 

Through an informed, holistic approach to death, Death Positive advocates hope to create an environment where individuals can face the end of life with greater understanding, acceptance, and dignity.

Death Positive Movement Innovations

For the first time in what seems like, well, ever, publications, from Fast Company to Shape Magazine, are writing pieces about death, end of life, grief, and exposing Americans to some of the innovative new ways of thinking in that space.

Today, we’ll walk through some of those innovations, which are occurring pre-death, post-death, and everywhere in between.

From death doulas to memorial diamonds, morbid curiosity to the realities of after-death legal challenges, here is what is changing in the death industry and what you need to know in order to make the right decisions for you and your family sooner rather than later.

Death Over Dinner

Michael Hebb lost his father when he was 14 to Alzheimer's. In his 30s, two doctors told him that 80% of Americans say that they want to die at home, but only 20% do. A light bulb went off immediately as Hebb realized that how we end our lives “was the most important and costly conversation America was not having.”

Today, the program he started, Death Over Dinner, is cited in Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B book. Arianna Huffington credits it for helping her to think about death every day. And there have been more than 100,000 Death Over Dinner events worldwide since its inception in 2013.‍

In fact, the Death Over Dinner website makes it incredibly easy to host one. Just fill out a quick questionnaire about who you will have at the dinner and what prompted the dinner, then choose a few reading materials, and you’ll get an email invitation template 90% ready to be sent to your friends.

This email is prescriptive on purpose. Death is uncomfortable for most of us to talk about – so it is helpful for guests to prepare by reading, watching, and listening to a variety of assigned materials to get everyone on the same page. A pre and post-dinner activity is also spelled out in the email.

Attaching a kind of routine to the dinner removes unknowns around what will happen there, dispelling fears and allowing for more natural and open conversation.

Michael himself has gone on as a partner in a non-profit called Round Glass, which has built out programs like this for all sorts of activities and difficult conversations and topics, including:

  • Seder.Today
  • The Living Wake

Because once you figure out how to talk about death with the world, you can copy and paste a format to bring just about any discussion to where we break bread.

Death Doulas

Doulas have become a mainstay of at-home births and ceremonies. Now, death doulas are becoming ever-more popular overseers of at-home deaths, as well as resources for those facing an impending death, or who just want to get things in order.

“We work beforehand to help design what those last days will look like and feel like for everybody who’s involved,” says Henry Fersko-Weiss, author of Caring for the Dying: The Doula Approach to a Meaningful Death, who created the first end-of-life, in-hospice doula program in the United States in 2003. “We also do work we call ‘summing up’ or work on the meaning of the person’s life to help them build a legacy of some kind.”

“I see tremendous value in doing work around the meaning of that person’s life in the lives of those that are left behind—to talk about that person’s legacy, to even create some kind of project that captures in some way the meaning of that person’s life and the impact that they’ve had and what we hope to hold onto and remember.”

This legacy aspect of a death doula is how they are able to help both the dying and those who are left grieving in the death’s wake.

One big thing that death doulas have in common with Death Over Dinner and Michael (beyond the industry, of course) is encouraging folks to have living funerals as a way to help with grief and face the reality of their death.

“I encourage living funerals because they reverse the model of grief Americans are used to. The norm is to wait until after the person dies to say goodbye, put them in an expensive box, and cry as the person is lowered into the ground. But why?” says Los Angeles-based death doula Jill Schock.

“Why aren’t we taking advantage of the precious time we have with our loved ones before they die? People who take part in living funerals grieve before the death. They get closure and then accept the death. No regrets, nothing left unsaid, and many people are surprised that they have fun while they do it. Sharing stories, laughing, hugging, eating, drinking—this is not your doom and gloom church service kind of funeral.”

This touches on the overall death wellness goal in general: to talk about death in the same way we talk about other big life events––to give it the same consideration, thought, and space, all while removing the stigma—so each of us can pass the way we want.

"We take so much time planning for the birth of a baby, or a wedding, or a vacation, but there's very little planning or acknowledgment around death," says Sarah Chavez, executive director of an organization called The Order of the Good Death and co-founder of Death & the Maiden, a platform for women to discuss death.

"To reach the goals you have, or want a certain quality of life throughout the dying process, [you] need to prepare and have conversations around that."

Death Cafes

Death Cafes gather the morbidly curious to discuss their fears about death, whether it be their own or someone they love (or just in general!). There are no rules here other than keeping an open mind and being willing to get vulnerable.

The Death Cafe model was developed by Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid, based on the ideas of Bernard Crettaz. The objective is “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.”

There is no staff at The Death Cafe. Instead, it is a social enterprise and idea that allows locals in any area to host a Death Cafe for friends, family, and the morbidly curious in their area. For instance, one Death Cafe in Austin has this listed as their mission:

“This Death Cafe will allow individuals to openly discuss their thoughts and feelings around death and dying. We will come together to consider each of our opinions and experiences in order to be more open to this natural process and embrace our lives going forward.

Initially, this will be a cafe-style meeting. Each will introduce themselves and, if desired, share their feelings or ideas on the topic. We will let the discussion move freely from the feelings and observations expressed. If the group grows beyond 10-12 people, we will break into smaller groups and follow the same process.”

The Death Cafe website offers materials and steps on how to host your own Death Cafe, including how to be a good facilitator, source snacks and beverages, publicize it, and more.

Grief Retreats

With the rise of social media, grief retreats are becoming increasingly popular as places to go to disconnect, meet others in a similar headspace, and begin to build your new normal.

These retreats are for those mourning, though there is no time limit on when the initial cause of your mourning began. You can come months after a loss, or years. You can return, or only go once.

Different retreats are built out for different demographics. For instance, there are retreats for children versus adults, couples versus singles, and males versus females –– though there are plenty of options out there that accept all.

Popular TV shows like Dead To Me have seemed to raise awareness for grief retreats in general. Judy and Jen, the show’s two main characters, meet at the fictional Friends of Heaven Grief Retreat in Palm Springs.

While the show puts a satirical spin on grief retreats—portraying a margarita-fueled weekend that mixed group therapy, “Carry On-Oke,” and a lot of flirting—the benefits of grief retreats are very real.

“When we’re grieving, we don’t want to be a burden to people, and you may not be able to see beyond that moment or circumstance,” says Ty Alexander-William, owner of Destination Heal.

“Destination Heal is a healthy place where you have permission to unload your worries, your trauma, and your grief. There is no judgment. This helps you shift your focus and go through your day in a more positive, intentional way.”

At her most recent 5-day retreat in May, 27 women gathered at a resort in the Mexican city of Cancún for five nights of affirmation, meditation, therapy, and plenty of time to forge friendships. The women are given assignments to work on during the retreat.

“Sometimes we suffer in silence because we don’t have a place to unpack,” says Alexander-Williams. “You’re a mom with kids; you have a job and wear a thousand hats. The retreat gives women space to open their suitcases and unpack everything. Then, go on and live.”

“Some people need hand-holding through that trauma, and we provide a brave space with other women who are like them. Knowing that you’re not alone can be the biggest hurdle to get over.”

Here is a quick list of some of the larger grief retreats. You can get a full briefing on each in our grief retreat deep dive.

  11. CAMP SOL.
  15. CAMP ERIN.

Green Burials

Green burials aren’t new, though they are beginning to take off in popularity. As the culture moves more and more toward spirituality instead of religion (which traditionally dictated burial rituals) and as global warming becomes more and more prominent, folks are looking for burial alternatives.

One such organization that has raised massive awareness around this issue is The Order of the Good Death––which promotes human composting (now legal in Washington state!) and/or the burial of bodies as they once were buried (in a shallow hole in the ground covered by a shroud).

Just how bad are modern burials, you ask? The Order of the Good Death has you covered:

“American funerals are responsible each year for the felling of 30 million board feet of casket wood (some of which comes from tropical hardwoods), 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete for burial vaults, and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid. Even cremation is an environmental horror story, with the incineration process emitting many a noxious substance, including dioxin, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and climate-changing carbon dioxide.”

Yikes. That doesn’t sound great, but not all folks are willing to opt for a green burial. Instead, many businesses in the industry are looking to build closed-loop systems that would allow for modern burial experiences or practices, while also removing the harm caused to the earth.

Many of those are not ready for mass use yet. So, if you’re looking to go green in death, The Order of the Good Death recommends conservation burial, which is offered in the following areas:

Memorial diamonds

Memorial diamonds are diamonds created using lab-grown diamond technology, but instead of using generic carbon for the diamond, you use biocarbon (in other words, human carbon).

Cremated ashes contain about 2% carbon, and hair contains a whole lot more. Both ashes and hair can be purified to extract the carbon within them and then put into a diamond growth machine (typically one called an HPHT machine) to create a custom memorial diamond those grieving can carry with them.

This process is gaining more and more visibility as people opt out of traditional urns or graves as their memorial option. Memorial diamonds give you something bright, positive, beautiful, and everlasting to bring with you throughout the next chapter of life.

The memorial diamond process takes 7-12 months. During that time, memorial diamond companies like Eterneva provide updates and videos (you can even go to some of their labs!) so you can go on the journey with your loved one, share updates, and exchange stories with friends and family.

Legacy Projects

Legacy projects come in many different forms, but they all have one big goal in common: to honor the life and legacy of the person (or pet!) who passed.

Some folks host annual fundraisers, like The Kardoggians and Chloe’s Fospice Fundraiser in New York City.

Others write books and work with politicians to have laws changed in the memory of their loved ones. Others do multiple 5K walks a year to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer and its prevention.

“To prepare for the seven walks I am undertaking this year, I have been training every day since I lost Karen,” says David Youngerman, “That’s the easy part, frankly. The hard part is raising the money needed to participate in the walks. Each walker is required to raise $2,300 per walk. That means I’m personally required to raise $16,100 to participate in the seven walks.”

Some non-profit organizations like HealGrief help folks put legacy projects into action as well. For college students who are grieving, HealGrief runs a program called Actively Moving Forward, which encourages community action and engagement in honor of their loved ones.

1 in 3 college students have experienced the death of a family member or close friend who died within the last 12 months. It’s fair to assume that this is true for all young adults ages 18-25.

‍Trusts & Wills

The legal ramifications of death are vast and can break families apart—or see them go broke. The information around trusts, wills, life insurance, estates, and more is difficult to find at best and impossible to understand at worst.

The best advice most folks have is to go and talk to a lawyer. Unfortunately, many people can’t afford this option, especially not knowing what their rights are or what money they have coming––if any.

There are groups and organizations out there, though, working hard to help to change this. One such organization is called Trust and Will. Their services include:

  • Revocable living trust
  • Schedule of assets
  • Pour over will
  • HIPAA authorization
  • Living wills
  • Last will and testament
  • Nomination of guardian for children

The benefits include:

  • Avoid probate court
  • Specify healthcare wishes
  • Nominate guardians for children
  • Nominate guardians for pets
  • Determine final arrangements
  • Leave specific gifts
  • Note special requests
  • Transfer assets into Trust
  • Assets go directly to beneficiaries

The Death Wellness Influencers & Thought Leaders 

No trend or movement can take hold without the grassroots folks making it all happen.

The following people are doing amazing work in the dying well space, growing their own visibility and presence, spreading their message, and helping the world better come to terms with mortality in the face of what seems to be increasing violence, disasters, and more.

These people help to ease our morbid curiosity, embrace our vulnerability, better understand grief cycles, and recognize the beauty in change as we all shift to a better dying and grief culture.

Caitlin Doughty

With 835,000 subscribers on YouTube, three New York Times best-selling books, and having founded The Order of the Good Death, Caitlin Doughty is likely the most visible death industry professional ever.

Her credentials speak for herself, but to follow her, read her books, and watch her videos is to get wrapped up in her divine acceptance of death, her humor about the topic (and the weirdo ways we’ve come up with to face it), and more.

Her books, videos, and organizations have helped hundreds of thousands –– and entertained even more.

Megan Devine

Megan Devine is best known for her amazing book titled It’s OK That You’re Not OK, which explains how traditional grief support fails to help those in grief, how the culture perceives grief and loss, and what needs to change.

She is also the founder of Refuge in Grief, a grief support resource and online community that serves both grieving people and those looking to better support grieving people via free online resources, paid creative courses, and professional training.

Her quotes on grief are some of the most quoted on the internet, and her book is one of the most recommended. She is active on social platforms, working to share her message and build community around one of the hardest moments and emotions in any of our lives.

Adelle Archer

Adelle Archer is the co-founder of Eterneva, a memorial diamond company she and her partner started after her close friend and business mentor Tracey passed away. Eterneva was born when Tracey willed some of her ashes to Adelle, telling her to do something with them that represented their relationship and what Tracey taught her.

That was in 2017, and since then, Adelle is the only death industry professional to ever be on the cover of a national magazine (Inc’s 30 Under 30 in 2018). She’s also sat and talked with 2 Chainz, been mentioned by the Kardashians, and has even launched the very first memorial diamond lab in Texas –– run by aerospace engineers.

Her goal, and that of Eterneva’s, is to provide a grief-changing journey that encourages folks to talk about their loved ones, share stories, create legacy projects, and keep them close.

Michael Hebb

Michael is a Partner at RoundGlass and the Founder of,,,, Seder.Today, The Living Wake, and the Co-Founder of He is the author of "Let's Talk About Death Over Dinner.”

He currently serves as a Board Advisor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts; and, in the recent past, as Senior Advisor to Summit Series, Theo Chocolate, Learnist, Caffe Vita, CreativeLive, Architecture For Humanity, ONETASTE and Mosaic Voices Foundation.

He is also the founder of Convivium – a creative agency that specializes in the technology of the common table, and the ability to shift culture through the use of thoughtful food and discourse-based engagements and happenings. Convivium has worked closely with thought/cultural leaders and many foundations/institutions, including: The World Economic Forum, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, the X Prize Foundation, the FEED Foundation, and The Nature Conservancy.

Michael is also the founding Creative Director of The City Arts Festival, the founder of Night School @ The Sorrento Hotel, the co-founder of The City Repair Project, and the founding Creative Director at the Cloud Room. His writings have appeared in GQ, Food and Wine, Food Arts, ARCADE, Seattle Magazine, and City Arts.

He has been a featured speaker at Lewis and Clark College, TEDMED, Summit Series, TEDxRainier, and so much else.

Following him and his organizations is a lesson in both living and dying well –– as well as incredible time management skills.

Randy Schoedinger

Randy Schoedinger is the CEO of Schoedinger Funeral Homes and Cremation Services in Columbus, OH, which is largely considered one of the most progressive funeral homes in the United States. Why? Because Randy and his team are embracing newer celebration of life events, turning them into experiences that aren’t dreaded.

They have launched one of the first modern funeral homes in the U.S., a beautiful building that looks more like a country club than a funeral home. In it, light pours in through large windows in every room. Each visitation room has a patio off to the side, where food and drink can be served and where water and fire fixtures bring the elements into the celebration.

It is booked consistently and is a marker of changing attitudes and tastes in funeral services.

Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg is the COO at Facebook and has two best-selling New York Times books. Her second, Option B, was written after the sudden passing of her husband.

At that time, she began recording her experiences through her Facebook page and soon wrote the book to talk about the difficult experience and how workplaces, friends, and family can better help.

She also has launched the website Option B, which helps with grief of all types –– providing a community for folks to connect, talk, and hopefully reach the coveted post-traumatic growth stage.

Henry Fersko-Weiss

Henry Fersko-Weiss is the president of the International End-of-Life Doula Association. In 2003, Henry created the very first End-of-Life Doula Program in the United States at a hospice in NYC and has built and managed many other programs based on his model.

His work has been featured in the New York Times, at the Global Wellness Summit, and around the world.

Dying Well 

As a wellness trend sweeps the nation, a dying well and death positive movement and mindset shift is setting in. To be healthy as long as possible includes up until the moment of death. Medical innovations can keep us breathing, but our mental health is what keeps us alive.

Seeing nature. Being surrounded by friends and family. Resting in the comfort of our own home. These aren’t things most people get in the U.S. when death approaches––and the survivor’s guilt coupled with the grief loved ones feel after someone passes without having made their wants clear contributes to complicated grief.

It is time for us to step up––all of us––and talk about what we want, why it matters, and how we want to remember those who have changed our lives for the better. It's time to face our own mortality and that of those we love so that we can be more present now and better prepared for then.