The Gift of Grace Game Makes Talking About Death Easier - Mayo Center for Innovation

Transform Day 2: Stop Avoiding Death and End Of Life Discussions

Post Written By Kelly Dano

As humans, we are practically hardwired, like any animal, to avoid death at all costs. The difference between us and other organisms, is that we are equipped with a psyche that dwells on the outcome of death. Death is a scary topic, and it seems, especially in the United States, that it is taboo. We avoid talking about something that will inevitably happen to all of us. Whether it be the fear of the unknown, of being left behind, the unpleasantness of speaking about the absence of a loved one, or fear of the act of dying itself, it is not something that we generally deal with until it is looking at us straight in the eyes. Nick Jehlen, a founding partner of the company Common Practice, found the simple avoidance of talking about our final wishes and preferences has led to a shocking statistic. Eighty-percent of healthcare surrogates (that make end-of-life decisions) experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Healthcare surrogates experience anxiety and fear because of the vital decisions that they have to make for someone else, someone that they care for. To start the conversations of end-of-life decisions, Common Practice created an interactive game called the Gift of Grace. The game combines storytelling, what day-one of Mayo Clinic’s Transform Conference 2015 presenter Kevin Kling noted is a segue to how we perceive the world, and gratitude. Here’s how the game works: The Gift of Grace consists of forty-seven question cards and twenty-four Thank-You Chips, each card has a question on it and everyone must answer, to show gratitude for something that someone has said, you give them a Thank-You Chip. At the end of the game, a coin is flipped to decide if either the person with the most or the least amount of Thank You Chips is the winner. The questions range from ‘What music do you want to be listening to on your last day alive’ to more serious questions like ‘Think of the last time you got angry at someone you loved. What did you do?’

I got to experience playing this game first-hand with a group of strangers. It was a very interesting experience, the cards bring up topics that I never would have thought about or would think to ask family members or friends. The Thank-You Chips allowed us to show respect and gratitude for something that someone said that may have been difficult for them to say, but to tell you the truth, we were so engrossed in each other’s answers, we most often forgot to use them. I do not think that this was a bad thing, because the game was serving its purpose—to start a conversation. What I realized after playing was that the game ultimately puts the power back into the patient’s hands in a situation where they feel like they have no control. The game enables them to have a say in how they will pass away and at the same time, relieves loved ones of the burdens that they feel in end-of-life decision making.

Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences we face in our lives and the Gift of Grace can make those losses a little bit easier. This game is not just for individuals facing terminal illness or other drawn out departure, it is for everyone. The stories being told through this game are what Nick Jechlen called a “compass” to a person’s values. In my opinion, it draws people together and by the end of all forty-seven rounds, you inevitably know and understand those around you better.