When Talking End-of-Life — How About a Spoonful of Sugar First?

I bought a card game the other day, something called My Gift of Grace by The Action Mill. The subtitle tells its purpose, “A conversation game for living and dying well.”

I purchased the set, hoping to write a review of the game (and hoping this would be an engaging tool families could use to facilitate a difficult conversation), but after spending a little bit of time with the question cards and the “rules”, I can’t recommend this version with any enthusiasm.

The box looks inviting:


Then it gets complicated: chips to hand out, a hidden coin to flip so that you can determine a “winner” at the end (how can there possibly be a winner after a discussion like this?), rules to follow (such as the expectation you take every question in order), chips to put on a “community stack” to facilitate ending the game, etc. etc.

And then darkness falls…

First question, “Write down any fears you have about playing this game.” Third question: “Write your own epitaph in five words or less.” [Heavy stuff, hardly the way to get people engaged and communicating with each other.] Fifth question: “If you needed help going to the bathroom today, who is the first person you would ask to help you? Who would you never be able to ask?” [I realize this ought to be talked about, but right at the beginning of the game?] There must be a better way to do this.

As a very famous fictional caregiver once said, “In ev’ry job that must be done, there is an element of fun, you find the fun and snap! the job’s a game.” Which is of course the opening lines to the Spoonful of Sugar song in the movie Mary Poppins.

End of life conversations won’t ever be a lark or a spree as the song goes on to describe, but that doesn’t mean we have to begin these conversations in fear-and-dirge mode either. I would suggest to anyone who wants to embark on an end of life conversation, start with the silver linings, start with the memories, start with the sparkling events of life, the “favorites”, the out-takes, the “treasures”, and build the conversation from there. Always keeping in mind, that because we live such transient and scattered family lives these days, there may be lots of basic information which even immediate family members do not know or have not shared and recollected in many many years.

Let me suggest a few places to start (in no particular order):

* Food: Favorite food, least favorite food, favorite restaurant, most memorable meal all time, favorite ice cream (or sorbet) flavor, favorite candy, favorite drink (soft and hard)
* Comforts: Favorite color, least favorite color, favorite music, least favorite music, favorite coat (sweater, jacket, sweat shirt), favorite PJs, slippers, photographs, smells, sounds, routines
* History: Memories of parents, siblings, growing up, vacations, family habits, adventures, secrets (the old ones that don’t matter any more), work, jobs, bosses, co-workers, military service, schools attended, homemaking (favorite and least favorite chores)
* General Information: church (or not), volunteer work, hobbies, sports teams, pets, television shows, movies, actors, books, poems, artists, writers, songs, jokes!, all kinds of favorites.
[Note: Please feel welcome to add other categories in the comments section below.]

You could even treat this like a scavenger hunt, gathering up the best resources and memories to have around during end of life and for funeral/memorial service times. And then bridge to the more technical and potentially ponderous questions My Gift of Grace aims to answer (a tiered deck with levels of difficulty perhaps?).

A game-ish format seems like a useful feint or dodge to get an important process going, but I don’t see any reason to start with such heavy material, or to contrive a “winner” using coin flips. The only win comes from a family or survivor group which becomes more informed, cohesive and aware, in the face of an impending loss.

These conversations need to happen–even the icky parts–but grab that spoonful of sugar first. Find the memories, the loves, the joys, the pleasures and gather them in your hearts and in your surroundings. This will do wonders to put fear and doubt into perspective as the more challenging conversations and decisions come around.




MemryLane is an outreach of MemryStone, makers of ceramic markers which survivors inscribe with a message and send through the cremation process with someone who has died. The MemryStones return intact as a more personal form of identity confirmation and as a lasting touch-stone for memory. Online purchase options available for family and survivor groups across the country.


Commentary & Notes
2 comments on “When Talking End-of-Life — How About a Spoonful of Sugar First?
  1. Thanks for taking the time Jon. Hopefully they will develop a revision in the future which addresses the limitations of version 1.

Comments are closed.