Blog Health Care

An alternative to politics over the holidays

Written by Stephanie Herbers, MSW/MPH, manager of the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging at the Institute for Public Health

Dread the thought of talking about politics at your upcoming holiday events with family? Consider using the time to talk about preferences for end-of-life instead. According to a national survey sponsored by non-profit The Conversation Project, 90% of people say that talking with their loved ones about end-of-life care is important, but only 27% have actually done so.

Though it may be uncomfortable to talk about the need for health care and support at the end of one’s life over the holidays, it is often a good time to do so.

Family and friends typically gather together, and many times, the presence of those who have passed away is felt by all.

It is hard to talk about dying, but the more you talk with loved ones, the easier it may be when that time inevitably comes. Whether it is expected or unexpected, knowing health care and end-of-life preferences ahead of time can allow you to focus on the person and less on decisions about the process.


There are many resources for having conversations and learning about end-of-life care options.

  1. A helpful “starter kit” with tools and tips to help you have the conversation can be found at The Conversation Project, an effort dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care.
  2. Let’s Have Dinner and Talk about Death is a national campaign to help change the conversation about how we prepare for and spend our final days. This time last year, Washington University professor Brian Carpenter hosted a dinner using this approach. You can read a story in The Ampersand that discusses the dinner and the topic.
  3. There are several books about death and dying that can help bring to light the diverse nature of end of life:
  • “Final Gifts” by Maggie Callanan
  • “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande
  • “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi
  • “Being with Dying” by Joan Halifax
  1. Here in St. Louis, the Gateway End of Life Coalition is a group of professionals available to help connect to resources for discussing, planning, and identifying options for end-of-life care. There are also booklets, such as this guide from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, which outlines advance directives, living wills, and other helpful documents.

You do not need to immediately jump into discussing advance care directives and wills. The conversation can start based on an article you recently read or a story from the radio (here are two suggestions: RadioLab, New York Times). For example… “Recently I read a blog post about unique burial or cremation practices like jewelry or mushroom burial suits. What do you think about that? What would you want to do?”

The more you know, the more you retain control of end-of-life experience for yourself and others close to you. It is never too early to start the conversation.