Making difficult conversations easier: text messages and card games that help us talk about death
There’s nothing fun about death. And nothing easy about grief. But when I met Lisa Pahl at a conference (ok, actually a happy hour) in San Francisco last month, I quickly realized that she shared my passion for making difficult conversations about death, a little easier.
Lisa and her co-founder, Lori LoCicero, created The Death Deck, because they believed - as I do - that talking about death doesn’t have to be hard. Death and loss are natural events that we will all experience, and the better we get at talking about it, the more supported we’ll all be when someone we care about loses someone they love.
Lisa and Lori met while Lori’s husband, Joe, was a patient at the hospice where Lisa was a social worker. After Joe died, their friendship continued, and they found themselves talking not only about how unprepared Lori felt at the end of his life, but also how hard people had found it to talk about Joe’s death. They created a card game that makes it easier for people to talk about a subject that has become increasingly taboo in North American society. Partners try and predict each other’s answers to all questions such as “If you knew you could visit your loved ones after you died, how would you make your presence known?” Hard topics become fun to talk about, and difficult conversations become a little easier.
I created Grief Coach for the same reason. 4 years ago my friend Gordon died. He & I had been friends since college, and I was honored to be part of his final months. I was also flattered when I was asked to speak at his funeral, but I was nervous, because Gordon was the best friend (and second cousin) of my husband, who had died over a decade earlier.
I knew there would be lots of people at Gordon's funeral who I hadn't seen for a long time, and - sure enough - from the moment I slid into my pew, to when I boarded my plane home, I found myself talking to people who wished they’d reached out back then, but often hadn’t. They were sorry they hadn’t called when my husband died, they said, and were embarrassed that they’d let so much time go by without reaching out. They said they just didn’t know what to say at the time, and that their fear of saying the wrong thing, had kept them away,
As hard as it had been for me not to hear from people when my husband died, it turned out it had been hard for them too. On my plane ride home I decided to use my expertise in mobile development to help people know what to say and do when someone dies. To make the difficult conversations a little easier, so that no-one has to grieve alone.
Two years later I’m so proud of my company, Grief Coach, and the support we’re sending to grieving people, as well as to the friends and family who want to support them but aren’t sure how. We send personalized text messages all year long, customized based on age, cause of death, relationship to the deceased, and more. My favorite thing about Grief Coach is that every subscription is for up to 5 people, so if the grieving person has friends and family who want to help, but aren’t sure how, we’ll text them tips and reminders too.
As Lisa & I shared our stories in San Francisco, we agreed that people want to be there for their friends and family, but simply don’t know how, and that’s OK. The thing is, no-one teaches us how to talk about death. It’s not part of any school curriculum that I’m aware of. Even doctors aren’t taught how to talk about death. The religious and community structures we relied on for guidance generations ago, are much less prevalent than they were.
So we shouldn’t be embarrassed about our lack of expertise in death and dying. Instead we should accept that this is an area where we could use a little help, and whether it’s a card game or text messages, I love that there are new ways to get that help, and take the awkwardness out of the moments in our lives that we most need each other.
Now that I’ve met Lisa and Lori, we’re crossing paths all the time. On February 6th Lisa, Lori and I will be speaking on a panel together at Live Well Die Well Los Angeles, and then on February 28th we’ll be exhibiting at Honoring Choices PNW’s 2020 conference in Seattle, with a lively game of The Death Deck happening the night before. I’m grateful to have met people as committed as I am to helping people have difficult conversations. Because death is hard. But it’s a little easier with people by our side.