SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Grieving is difficult at any age, but it can be especially isolating for 20 and 30-somethings. Many of them don't have peers who can relate to what it feels like to lose a friend or a parent. But a new support system is being developed in cities across the country. It's called The Dinner Party. WBUR's Deborah Becker reports.
DEBORAH BECKER, BYLINE: At first it seems like any other dinner party, with folks putting the last-minute touches on the meal as guests arrive. In the kitchen of her Boston apartment, Rosy Hosking describes the menu.
ROSY HOSKING: Now, I have prepared a ratatouille. It's very easy, and it's also vegan, so it, like, gets (laughter) all the the plus points for a dinner party of people, like, you don't know very well.
BECKER: The guests at this potluck dinner have never met in person before. Yet, they're coming together to talk about something that has profoundly affected each of them - the loss of loved one.
LENNON FLOWERS: Thank you, Rosy, for opening your doors and to all of you for opening yours.
BECKER: That's Lennon Flowers who helps those grieving find dinner parties like this one. After the toast and the usual small talk, the conversation quickly goes deeper. Flowers starts.
FLOWERS: I was asked the question how long has it been earlier this week, and I had to, like, count on my fingers and I realized it'll be nine years in February.
BECKER: Nine years since her mother died of cancer.
FLOWERS: I just - I had this, like, surge of just missing the [expletive] out of my mom, you know?
BECKER: The four women at this meal have lost a parent. Twenty-nine-year-old Alison Bard's mother died six years ago. She says she often can't talk about her loss with relatives who may also be grieving or friends who may find such conversations uncomfortable. She finds it helpful to talk with others who are navigating early adulthood.
ALISON BARD: I just started grad school and - business school - and my mom went to the same business school. This whole experience has been, like, hey, Mom - Mom, what would you, like - tell me about this. I'm feeling out of my element here.
BECKER: The Dinner Party started by accident five years ago when Flowers and a co-worker arranged a dinner in Los Angeles for friends they knew who had lost a parent. Soon they were inundated with people asking how to hold their own. Now a formal nonprofit, The Dinner Party helps connect participants with tables across the country. The gatherings are not meant to be professional grief support but to pair young adults with others who can relate. Jessica Foley was 13 years old when her father died.
JESSICA FOLEY: I'm volunteering at this camp for kids who've lost someone and that's been really amazing, feeling, like, in awe of that process, like, you know, this venue is, like, my camp.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: With wine.
FOLEY: With wine, camp with wine, yes, absolutely.
BECKER: The Dinner Party was cited in a recent Harvard Divinity School study as an example of how millennials are gathering in new ways that are almost religious. But a Pew Research Center survey in May found that more than a third of millennials do not affiliate with any religion. Flowers believes young adults are eager to create their own communities to help find meaning in their lives.
FLOWERS: As we have kind of abandoned institutions and sacred spaces, we are still looking for spaces where we can talk about, you know, what we normally would have shared with a priest.
BECKER: Dinner Parties are now being held in more than four dozen cities around the country. For NPR News, I'm Deborah Becker in Boston.
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