one conversation to have before you die

One Conversation You Must Have Before You Die

Leonie Cutts

Five hours into his career as a physician, Timothy Ihrig, a palliative care physician, had to tell his very first patient that he had cancer and was going to die. Still finding his feet, Timothy did the only thing he knew how to do: he sat and held hands with his patient and his patient’s wife and they breathed. Here is how the conversation went:

What is it that has meaning to you – what is it that you hold sacred?

My family.

What do you want to do?

I want to go fishing.

Timothy’s patient died a week later.

How do you want to die?

It may not be the first topic you expect to have for a coffee catch up. But it’s a conversation you should have at least once. I had only just met Jessie Williams once before, but within a few minutes we had taken a deep dive into death. Jessie, Chair and Executive Director of The Groundswell Project, makes talking about death very comfortable. At The Groundswell Project they are on a mission to create cultural change about death and dying. With people living longer, and dying sicker, the need to talk about dying is becoming increasingly important. And Groundswell wants to help us break through the fear and taboo of talking about death. A good place to start is talking about how you want to die.

We know that 10/10 people die. We also know that 9/10 people never tell anyone their end of life wishes.

When Jessie and I got together, we used the CCS cards to think about facing a terminal illness and consider the topic:

Describe what things are most important to you about how you would like to die.

While this seems like an incredibly morbid way to spend an afternoon, what followed was a meaningful, heartfelt conversation about what was important to us in our lives and what matters most. Both of us had experiences that helped inform our thoughts on how we would like to die. As often happens when using the cards to think through hard topics, I said things that I didn’t know that I would say. I realised I didn’t really know what I wanted, or what mattered to me about dying, until pressed to consider the topic. Jessie shared her story with her whole heart. It was a conversation that mattered.

Thinking about my death actually helped me to think more about my life, about what is most important and who matters most. I think talking about death can help you clarify what you want and need in your final days. It will help family and friends know what you want — hopefully before it’s too late — and it can open up a whole new conversation about life. It may possibly change how you die and how you live. Structured conversations with mutual disclosure about hard things will go a long way to increasing empathy and reducing taboo.

The official ‘Dying To Know’ day, where the sole purpose is to talk about death, dying and bereavement, is August 8th. It has just passed (couldn’t resist the pun!). You don’t need to wait until it comes around again, you can have your own conversation anytime. Why not today?


Try it yourself: CCS before you die

You will need:

CCS topics:

  • Go through your pack and find some cards to describe your experience and feelings about death.
  • Go through your pack and choose 5 cards that, for you, describe the ideal dying experience.

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Leonie Cutts

Co-founder of CCS Corporation, co-developer of the CCS, facilitator and coach. Leonie is passionate about bringing people together for connection and growth in both their personal and professional lives.

1 Comment

  1. Stephen Kozicki on 26 August 2016 at 10:35 am

    Leonie, again, thanks for the article and sharing your thoughts, I like Woody Allen’s approach to dying:

    “I know I have to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens!”