We Love to Talk About Our Lives. What About Our Deaths?

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.

As humans, we’re all pretty fascinating, and exploring what matters to each of us under different circumstances can be a captivating conversation…and captivating conversations are part of what turkey dinners are all about. It’s also a vital one – there will be few times in our lives where ‘getting it right’ is more important than at the end of them.

There are also few greater gifts you can give to your loved ones, and they to you, than making sure these lives we are living with such ferocious intent have the luxury of ending the same way.

Engage with Grace is a way to help get the conversation about end of life started – a way to Engage in this topic with Grace. Just five simple questions about our end of life preferences that we can all commit to being able to answer – for ourselves, for our loved ones. Take a quick look – do you know how you would answer? Could you answer for your loved ones? There is no wrong answer – It’s only wrong if you don’t know your answers … or if you haven’t shared them.

Coming together over the dinner table to talk about the important stuff is part of our DNA…and it’s where so much of the good stuff happens. We connect, we share, we learn, we laugh, we fall in love, out of love, we fight and make up, we celebrate, we (maybe even) cry. If this Thanksgiving turns out not to be your thing, then pick another dinner. Check out the genius Death over Dinner movement started by our dear friend Michael Hebb to help make that happen. Thousands of dinners happening across the country – from cool hipsters to the very dearest grandparents coming together to think hard, eat well, and make sure we nail this end of life thing by making sure we’re talking about it. We double dog dare you to have a Death Dinner – and not enjoy it.

Know what else? What we want at the end of our lives often changes as we go through them… a mum of toddlers may find she’d opt for more intensive treatment options, while a great-grandfather may feel more comfortable choosing quality of life related treatment… so have this conversation once, then keep having it.

None of us are planning for anything less than living forever – so until one of us is smart enough to make that happen (go Google!) – let’s at least commit to this: we live our life with intent – we can end our life with that same honor. 70% of us want to die at home, only 30% of us do. Each of us will only die once – make sure you get to die the way you want. Then make sure that’s a gift you give to your loved ones as well.

Just five questions. Just get started.

Could there be a more important conversation to have this thanksgiving? Nope. Maybe that’s why they call it talkin’ turkey.

Warm holiday wishes from Alexandra Drane, Matthew Holt, Leigh Calabrese-Eck, and the rest of the Engage With Grace team.

5 replies »

  1. My interest in end-of-life medical interventions and repercussions has me talking about dying with everyone who has the stomach and courage to engage (often I break the ice by telling how I want to exit: with tequila and chocolate covered almonds) For me these discussions are an opportunity to talk about what questions to ask of any life-prolonging procedure: rather than focusing on success/failure data or invasive/non ask about what recovery looks like, possible complications and whether intervention will return the person to their former selves. These are but some of the (in my opinion) considerations when considering what ‘life and living’ means to each of us. To the wonderful Engage with Grace questions, I would add to number 4: have you ensured your appointed advocate is comfortable with your choices (I’ve found many a potential tries to argue me out of my decisions) Thanks Alexandra Drane, Leigh Calabrese-Eck & Matthew Holt for continuing your own advocacy on this tough, emotional topic (and by the way: every convo I have people do find themselves fascinating 😉 Kathy Kastner: motivated to create BestEndings.com

  2. Al:

    As per prolonging life, the doctors told us that with XYZ treatment you can keep your parent alive for 6 more weeks max. This said they were recommending against it.

    Given the imagery and age of parent (80s) it was quite clear death was coming regardless. We felt it was inhumane to prolong the inevitable as treatment would have been very painful/pointless and it was against the explicit wishes of parent.

    Not to monetize it, but the 6 weeks would have cost medicare north of $1 million. In this regard to seek further treatment would have been irresponsible.

    What shocked me though was that it seemed like one could get the treatment if one pushed.

    Are hospitals legally obligated to do everything possible or is it fear of lawsuit if they do not?

    When you are talking about younger people perhaps it’s a harder decision to stop treatment. It’s worth reading the following NYT article on “How Doctors Die” if you have not seen it already.

    The article links to the death at dinner site and according to Medicare there has been a 10% dip for in hospital deaths in the past decade.


  3. my wife had a document like this but that didn’t stop doctors from “recommending” lots of extra treatments that might have prolonged her life by a few days or weeks. (She died 5 years ago today.) So it’s not enough to have this in place. You still have to be vigilant in saying no.

  4. Unfortunately true. God Bless her my 78 year old mom has already taken care of that as well as planning her funeral.

  5. As per the questions, went through this with a parent last year and because these questions were answered it went a lot more smoothly. There was no confusion as to what to do in a given situation.

    I would agree with the authors that it’s something that has to be done.

    Happy Thanksgiving!