There are few things I loathe more in the world than ice-breaking, “getting-to-know-you games” — except maybe when those games are played at a baby or wedding shower. And I know that I’m far from alone. The problem is, though, I’m exactly the kind of person who often needs an icebreaker to get a conversation started, especially for conversations that are difficult to have.
It’s a good thing, then, that a group of knowledgeable professionals put together a campaign called The Conversation Project, which seeks to help families and caregivers confront, arguably, the most important conversation of all — how best to honor an individual’s end-of-life wishes.
Aptly named, the Conversation Project is led by the Pulitzer Prize winning writer Ellen Goodman. The website for the campaign debuted last week, drawing quite the media response, which speaks to its broad appeal. The centerpiece of the campaign is a starter kit (in the form of a downloadable PDF), which logically walks users through ways to broach the subject of end-of-life care with a loved one.
Advisors for The Conversation Project should be familiar to anyone in the long-term care field. They include former Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Interim Administrator Donald Berwick, M.D.; Hebrew SeniorLife CEO Len Fishman; and journalist and physician Atul Gawande, M.D., to name a few.
Although it’s not intended for use in a long-term care facility, necessarily, it’s a handy resource for any type of healthcare worker to have an awareness of. Families trust medical professionals when it comes to life’s biggest questions, after all. The Starter Kit points out that while 70% of individuals surveyed say they wish to die in their own homes, 70% actually die in a hospital or a long-term care facility.
The Starter Kit offers writing exercises and surveys that allow users to examine their own feelings about starting end-of-life conversations. It asks them to think through more practical matters first, such as deciding where the conversation should take place. Thinking this through before talking to their loved one can alleviate some of their worries.
The kit comes with partial scripts — which are laid out not unlike a Mad Libs game — that more tentative users can follow if they’re really unsure where to start. And there are checklists that can help users prioritize topics and customize them to their unique needs.
The kit also advises users to seek out the advice of healthcare professionals for further guidance. As the materials themselves say, the kit itself is just a starting off point.
And for most of us, that’s all we need.