'The Conversation Project'

Talking about death, end of life wishes


BOSTON, Mass. – It's the conversation many of us avoid: dying and end of life wishes. But, after dealing with her mother's death, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ellen Goodman founded The Conversation Project.

"We need to have these conversations early and at the kitchen table and not in the ICU," said Goodman. "[The conversation] can reduce unease and uncertainty."

Martha Hayward and her family grappled with their mom's care, and after several years of being in and out of hospitals they finally had the conversation.

"When my mother died, we were given—the word I can use is peace," Hayward said.

As a single woman Patricia Knight worried that no one in her family would know her true wishes, so she called a family meeting.

"Once I got going it was actually relaxing and it was a little bit cathartic," said Knight.

The Conversation Project created a starter kit that allows people to fill out very specific wishes and give it to loved ones. Some of the questions you're asked to think about: what is most important to you in your last phase of life? Who do you want to be involved in your care? Who do you want making decisions for you?

Maureen Bisognano says that's what happened when her family fulfilled her 17-year-old brother's wishes to die at home.

"There was a tremendous sense of relief that he had expressed his wishes," explained Bisognano.

Goodman says you are never too young to have the conversation and if a child is facing a serious illness parents should talk to their children about wishes as well. For more information and to get the starter kit, go to www.theconversationproject.org.

Additional Information:

Talking about death can be an uncomfortable proposition for anyone, but especially for those in the constantly changing world of caring for a dying loved one.  And often, family members don't know the wishes of their dying family member, because they have never talked about how they would want to die. So remaining members are left to guess about the care, which may go against the wishes of the family member they're caring for. The Conversation Project aims to get people talking, openly and comfortably, with their loved ones before they reach the end of their life.  According to a survey by the California HealthCare Foundation, 60 percent of people said it is "extremely important" they do not burden their family with tough decisions when it comes to their end-of-life care, but 56 percent have yet to communicate their end-of-life wishes. (Source: http://theconversationproject.org/)

Conversation Project: Founded in 2010 by journalist Ellen Goodman and health and senior care professional Len Fishman, together with many local clergy, medical professionals, and media members, decided to start a grassroots program which would become The Conversation Project. In 2011, the Conversation Project began a collaboration with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), in order to reach a greater audience.  With the IHI, The Conversation Project aims to get people talking as soon and as often as possible about their end-of-life care wishes.  In order to help facilitate the discussion, they created a starter kit which can be downloaded on their website (conversationproject.org). The kit asks you to consider a variety of facts, figures, and questions as you move toward a discussion with your family or loved ones.  (Source: http://theconversationproject.org/about/, http://theconversationproject.org/starter-kit/get-set/)