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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Let’s Talk About Death

Ellen Goodman created The Conversation Project after being her mother’s caretaker for 10 years.

Ellen Goodman created The Conversation Project after being her mother’s caretaker for 10 years.

Holidays are the time when families and friends gather together for food and conversation. But some of the most important topics, such as end-of-life care, are the most difficult to discuss. A recent study shows that 90 percent of Americans say it’s important to talk about end-of-life care but only 30 percent actually do.

Award-winning journalist Ellen Goodman wants to change that. She created The Conversation Project after being her mother’s caretaker for 10 years and having to make difficult decisions for her mother. The Conversation Project gives people the tools to start talking about their end-of-life wishes.

Goodman is encouraging people to pick a date during the week of Jan. 1 to 7 to host a dinner with family and friends and “start talking about how we want to live the last days of our lives, honoring each other’s wishes with dignity, respect and deep compassion.”

Interview Highlights

Have the conversation at home, before there’s a crisis

“If you’re lucky — and we want to make sure that it’s more than luck — you’ve had these conversations early, before there’s a crisis. You’re talking about running into a crisis or you’re talking about people who end up making these decisions in the ICU. This is not the place to talk about what matters to you, what your values are, to have a real conversation about the kind of care that you want and the kind of care that you don’t want. So we want to bring these talks early.”

Death is inevitable…so talk about it

“It’s funny, because there is, between adult children and elderly parents, a kind of conspiracy of silence often. The adult child doesn’t even want to suggest to the parent that they might be dying or that they might ever die, I should say. And the elderly parent doesn’t want to worry the child, and so, each of us sits there, knowing. I mean, my favorite line comes from The Onion magazine – they had a wonderful headline a couple of years ago that said ‘Death Rate Holds At 100 Percent.’ We all know the deal here, and when we don’t talk about it, we end up often feeling quite lonely and isolated.”

There may be a cultural shift underway

“I think we are at a tipping point. Part of it is that the baby boom generation is getting older and we’ve been the change agents in our culture. We’re the generation that changed the way we give birth in America, so maybe we’ll be the generation that changes the way we die. I do think there is something of a cultural shift in it – that doesn’t mean that it’s an easy one. And The Conversation Project, by the way, if you miss having these conversations at Christmas, the first week in January, we are partnering with Death Over Dinner and having a series of dinners. We are encouraging, on our website, all the fun and truly interesting, not scary, conversations that you can have to start your own dinner.”


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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