The Conversation Project

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In 2012, in her encore career as a “recovering journalist” Ellen Goodman founded Cambridge, Mass. based nonprofit organization The Conversation Project, a public health campaign that aims to change the way people talk about, and prepare for, death – across the nation and beyond.

The Conversation Project raises public awareness about the importance of expressing one’s and respecting others’ wishes for end of life care. She believes too many people die in a manner they would not choose and too many of their loved ones are left feeling bereaved, guilty and uncertain about the choices made on their behalf. And she knows we can make this easier.

She knows firsthand the difficulty of making healthcare choices for a loved one. She served as her mother’s caretaker, the “designated daughter,” for several years.

Ellen says that she and her mother were very close, and they talked about everything, except how she would have wanted to live out her final days. Ellen was faced with a cascading number of decisions to make, and throughout the process, she was often painfully unsure if the decisions she had to make were the right ones.

Ellen’s experience is not unique. As she began sharing her personal story with friends and colleagues it seemed they all had a similar story to tell; they were either witnesses to a good death or a hard one. Her takeaway: one conversation could have made all the difference.

At the heart of the project is the Conversation Starter Kit, a free, downloadable, step-by-step guide that helps people have “the conversation” about their preferences for end-of-life care. The Starter Kit is designed to be used by families, or by individuals, as a way to help them think about and communicate important end-of-life decisions, before a medical crisis.

Ellen can often be found delivering her mission nationwide in workshops and lectures to a broad array of stakeholders including civic and volunteer organizations, health care systems, senior centers, libraries, houses of worship and employers. Her remarks encourage listeners to begin the conversation today: It’s always too soon until it’s too late, she says.

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