By Alexandra Drane, Leigh Calabrese-Eck & Matthew Holt
Most of us find ourselves pretty fascinating… flipping through photos and slowing down for the ones where we’re included, tweeting our favorite tidbits of information, facebook-ing progress on this or that…
We find other people captivating as well. In fact, there’s a meme going around on facebook where people share a handful of things that most people don’t know about them – and there’s a great joy in learning these tidbits about the friends and family we think we know so well.
This Thanksgiving, we’re asking our friends and family to try this exercise, but with a twist – we want to know how they’d answer just five questions on their end-of-life preferences.
What? Are you CRAZY? Talk about how you’d want to die over Thanksgiving? Yup – that’s exactly what we’re suggesting. You know why? Because this is a conversation you absolutely want to have exactly when you DON’T need to have it… and it’s a conversation you need to have with your loved ones. Our hope for you this Thanksgiving is that you’ll have the luxury of checking both those boxes.
Our family debates a lot of things over our dinner table – the best Looney Toon character, politics, whether or not (and where or when) something is appropriate… For many of these topics, there are no right answers and no wrong answers – just a whole lot of discussion and opinions.
A few months ago, on the heels of the Health 2.0 conference, a small group of us gathered in a San Francisco kitchen for one of the most powerful experiences most of us had ever had around a dinner table.
Once again we’re hosting the annual Engage with Grace blogrally. Engage with Grace aims to get people talking about their wishes for end of life and advanced care. If you want to host this on your blog please do and feel free to get the html for this post here — Matthew Holt
One of our favorite things we ever heard Steve Jobs say is … “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” We love it for three reasons: 1) It reminds all of us that living with intention is one of the most important things we can do. 2) It reminds all of us that one day will be our last. 3) It’s a great example of how Steve Jobs just made most things (even things about death – even things he was quoting) sound better.
Most of us do pretty well with the living with intention part – but the dying thing? Not so much. And maybe that doesn’t bother us so much as individuals because heck, we’re not going to die anyway!! That’s one of those things that happens to other people …
Then one day it does – happen to someone else. But it’s someone that we love. And everything about our perspective on end of life changes.
If you haven’t personally had the experience of seeing or helping a loved one navigate the incredible complexities of terminal illness, then just ask someone who has. Chances are nearly 3 out of 4 of those stories will be bad ones – involving actions and decisions that were at odds with that person’s values. And the worst part about it? Most of this mess is unintentional – no one is deliberately trying to make anyone else suffer – it’s just that few of us are taking the time to figure out our own preferences for what we’d like when our time is near, making sure those preferences are known, and appointing someone to advocate on our behalf.
Goodness, you might be wondering, just what are we getting at and why are we keeping you from stretching out on the couch preparing your belly for onslaught?
Thanksgiving is a time for gathering, for communing, and for thinking hard together with friends and family about the things that matter. Here’s the crazy thing – in the wake of one of the most intense political seasons in recent history, one of the safest topics to debate around the table this year might just be that one last taboo: end of life planning. And you know what? It’s also one of the most important.
Here’s one debate nobody wants to have – deciding on behalf of a loved one how to handle tough decisions at the end of their life. And there is no greater gift you can give your loved ones than saving them from that agony. So let’s take that off the table right now, this weekend. Know what you want at the end of your life; know the preferences of your loved ones. Print out this one slide with just these five questions on it.
Every Thanksgiving, Engage With Grace has a blog rally asking everyone to take time to start that most difficult of conversations–what do you want to happen near the end of your life? And as ever THCB is honored to take part – Matthew Holt
Once again, this Thanksgiving we are grateful to all the people who keep this mission alive day after day: to ensure that each and every one of us understands, communicates, and has honored their end of life wishes.
Seems almost more fitting than usual this year, the year of making change happen. 2011 gave us the Arab Spring, people on the ground using social media to organize a real political revolution. And now, love it or hate it – it’s the Occupy Wall Street movement that’s got people talking.
Smart people (like our good friend Susannah Fox have made the point that unlike those political and economic movements, our mission isn’t an issue we need to raise our fists about – it’s an issue we have the luxury of being able to hold hands about.
It’s a mission that’s driven by all the personal stories we’ve heard of people who’ve seen their loved ones suffer unnecessarily at the end of their lives.
It’s driven by that ripping-off-the-band-aid feeling of relief you get when you’ve finally broached the subject of end of life wishes with your family, free from the burden of just not knowing what they’d want for themselves, and knowing you could advocate for these wishes if your loved one weren’t able to speak up for themselves.
This was sensational when I saw it live at TEDMED and it’s even more amazing second time around. Sekou & Steve do 18 minutes of beat poetry & intensity–”we know when life ends, but when does death begin!
We’re continuing a tradition at THCB started last year. Asking you to take a moment this weekend to discuss your desires for how to live the end of your life as meaningfully as possible–If you want to reproduce this post on your blog (or anywhere) you can download a ready-made html version hereMatthew Holt
Last Thanksgiving weekend, many of us bloggers participated in the first documented “blog rally” to promote Engage With Grace – a movement aimed at having all of us understand and communicate our end-of-life wishes.
It was a great success, with over 100 bloggers in the healthcare space and beyond participating and spreading the word. Plus, it was timed to coincide with a weekend when most of us are with the very people with whom we should be having these tough conversations – our closest friends and family.
Our original mission – to get more and more people talking about their end of life wishes – hasn’t changed. But it’s been quite a year – so we thought this holiday, we’d try something different.
A bit of levity.
At the heart of Engage With Grace are five questions designed to get the conversation started. We’ve included them at the end of this post. They’re not easy questions, but they are important.
To help ease us into these tough questions, and in the spirit of the season, we thought we’d start with five parallel questions that ARE pretty easy to answer:
Silly? Maybe. But it underscores how having a template like this – just five questions in plain, simple language – can deflate some of the complexity, formality and even misnomers that have sometimes surrounded the end-of-life discussion.
So with that, we’ve included the five questions from Engage With Grace below. Think about them, document them, share them.
Over the past year there’s been a lot of discussion around end of life. And we’ve been fortunate to hear a lot of the more uplifting stories, as folks have used these five questions to initiate the conversation.
One man shared how surprised he was to learn that his wife’s preferences were not what he expected. Befitting this holiday, The One Slide now stands sentry on their fridge.
Wishing you and yours a holiday that’s fulfilling in all the right ways.
(To learn more please go to www.engagewithgrace.org. This post was written by Alexandra Drane and the Engage With Grace team. )