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  • Liz Dunnebacke

A Holiday Conversation

Friends and family know I’m always curious to hear their news when the topic of death crops up. One friend just texted me a photo of a holiday present she received from her parents; the cover of the book I’m Dead, Now What?: Important Information About My Belongings, Business Affairs, and Wishes. They had executed a volume and now were sending a blank copy to each of their grown children to complete. It struck me as an inspired gift during the holiday season; a time of gathering, even if only virtually this year. What better time to broach the difficult topic of end-of-life wishes?


Contemplating this gift, it occurred to me that there are some serious gaps in my own preparation for the end. In the years I’ve explored deathcare I’ve attended death visioning workshops, Death Cafes, read many books about death, purchased Ethical Will kits, and even founded a nonprofit dedicated to this field. I have spoken aloud, casually, to friends and family about my burial preferences. But I’ve never written down what I have often counseled others to do: a death plan.


There are wonderful resources out there helping to spread the word about the importance of having “the talk” about end-of-life wishes with loved ones, without delay. Dedicated websites like theconversationproject.org or conversationsofalifetime.org have helpful suggestions and toolkits for getting started. And yet I’m surprised by my own reticence to finalize this work for myself. I doubt it’s just me who still struggles with making space for these decisions and conversations.


The reality is that the prospect of taking care of end-of-life matters entails a lot of details that are often overwhelming. There are legal issues (and expenses), professionals to engage, and loved ones to talk to about uncomfortable subjects. Each of the measures in the process is an important step in ensuring that you will have the end-of-life experience you want, but also, crucially, that your loved ones will not be unnecessarily burdened with huge decisions and difficult conversations, while they are simultaneously grieving your passing. And perhaps most important of all, consider the well-documented peace-of-mind that putting these affairs in order can bring to you. After all, a well-considered death is an invitation to live more fully now.


The journey of a thousand miles begins, and continues, with a single step, so this holiday season, take some time to consider what that next step might be for you. For me, it will be writing down a plan for my own death, including what I want my funeral to be like. My family will likely be mildly anxious to learn that I plan to trot this out during a holiday Zoom call in order to tackle that most awkward and difficult of tasks in any group effort: the first step. I can only hope that this will help get the ball rolling for others, and perhaps that momentum will prove infectious.


As the year comes to a close, may you find the space to ponder at least one personal goal for quality deathcare for yourself or a loved one, and the courage to talk about it. There are plenty of websites and books that can help you. Or feel free to reach out to Wake if you want suggestions for places to start. May we all be lucky to have the opportunity to say the things we want to say this holiday season.



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