Making death conversations fun!

“Arriving at an acceptance of one’s mortality is a process, not an epiphany.”
– Atul Gawande

Imagine a group of old (mature) friends gathered for a “girls” weekend in balmy Florida. The friendships started in grammar school and have continued for the better part of 50 years. These women have met at least once a year for more than 25 years and shared life’s ups and downs. On this trip, one of the women pulls out a deck of cards called Talk of a Lifetime, and the play begins. I don’t have to imagine, they were my cards and my friends, and we spent the evening sipping wine, taking turns uncovering questions from the deck, discussing end-of-life topics, and laughing! We learned much about each other’s life and end-of-life goals that night. Who would have thought talking about death could be so much fun?

Conversations with loved ones and providers are crucial to the advanced care planning process. In a recent AARP survey of 2,000 adults, “54 percent had not completed a medical power of attorney or advance care directive, and a whopping 62 percent of those said they had not gotten around to it; 15 percent said they did not know how; and 13 percent said they did not like talking about these things.”

Here is a fun solution for those who have their head in the sand. The following games are designed to help people have those conversations in a painless and fun way. Try them out over the mashed potatoes or wine at your next family gathering.

1. Talk of a Lifetime. Created by the National Funeral Directors Association offers 50 cards with 50 questions to help you learn more about your loved ones. Players share stories about life, the things that matter most, and how they want to be remembered. 

2. Hello Game is the easy, non-threatening way to start a conversation with your family and friends about living and dying and what matters most to you.

3. Go Wish gives you an easy, even entertaining way to talk about what is most important to you. The cards help you find words to talk about what is important if you were to be living a life that may be shortened by serious illness.

4. The Death Deck is a party game that lets you explore a topic we’re all obsessed with but often afraid to discuss, DEATH. With a playful tone and a sense of humor, The Death Deck is a game and tool that allows friends and family members to open up and share thoughts, stories, and preferences about life and death in a non-threatening and surprisingly fun way. Players partner up to guess answers to deep, funny, and sometimes weird questions on death. With 112 cards and numerous ways to play, The Death Deck encourages lively conversations and life-changing dialogue.

5. Heart to Heart Cards game is designed to make it easier for a family member, a caregiver, or a health provider to understand what a loved one wants through the EOL. Each card is in English and Chinese and is designed to help reach Chinese-speaking community members. However, they can be used by healthy individuals who want family members or friends to know what they would like when their lives may be threatened by injury or disease.

6. Heart2Hearts: Advance Care Planning cards provide 52 conversation starters about advanced care planning. Be prepared to have the most meaningful conversation of your life. Playing, completing the innovative workbook, and discussing it with your loved ones will give them a priceless gift…peace of mind. They will know your wishes and can follow them if you cannot make health care decisions yourself.

7. Elephant in the Room is a set of 96 cards in 4 categories of scenarios and questions for discussion. Each individual can confirm their preferences, enhance communication with their family and health care team, provide time for family and other loved ones to understand decisions, and relieve uncertainty or guilt about decision-making. These are personal conversations, not medical consultations, and they will require a loving commitment of time and attention from all involved.

8. Death Conversation Game facilitates open thinking and conversations on death in safe, respectful environments of chosen friends, family, students, clients, colleagues, or strangers. The depth and breadth of the conversation depend on you. Whether it’s death-related theology, ideology, metaphysics, bookish details, relationship considerations, bereavement, and a number of other subjects. Available online only through Apple or Android.

9. GraveTalk from the Church of England offers 50 unique cards for use in small groups, each with a thought-provoking question to start the end-of-life conversation.

Life: What is important in your life? How would you like to be remembered?

Death: What experiences of death have you had so far? What do you think death means?

Funerals: What will happen when you die? Do you need to make any plans or choices now?  

Let the games and conversations begin!

Althea Halchuck is a patient advocate.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com


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