How Family Movie Night Can Lead to a Conversation About Death

 In Advice

Recently there has been a growing focus for individuals in our society to look at their hopes and desires for the end-of-life and put those wishes into writing. The Five Wishes document and The Conversation Project Starter Kit have helped people think about that day when life will come to an end and put those thoughts and feelings into writing.

But the most important step in the end-of-life planning process is to talk about those wishes with loved ones and that conversation is often difficult to initiate. How do we start talking about death with people who aren’t sure they want to discuss it?

One idea is to use a film, perhaps during a family “movie night,” to help introduce the topic and get the discussion started. Films project the stories of characters onto the screen and allow us to look at difficult subjects from a distance without feeling personally involved. The stories portrayed in movies can also inspire the imagination, stir up emotions and provoke deep thoughts—all of which can be helpful during a conversation about death.

Here are some suggestions for creating a special “movie night” exploration of death and dying:

1. Allow ample time

Choose a night when nothing else has been planned so there will be time and space for the conversation to unfold naturally after the film.

2. Keep it cozy

Make sure the seating arrangements are comfortable for everyone, provide snacks and beverages, and minimize outside distractions that might take attention away from the film and the conversation.

3. Select the film carefully

Consider the age and comfort level of the people you want to engage in conversation as you make your choice. Also be clear about your objective: do you want to inspire a discussion about death in general or do you have specific topics to bring up such as hospice care or living fully at the end of life or facing grief after the death of a loved one?

For example, The Bucket List is a great film to kick off a conversation about how to live life fully when you know you are going to die. Stepmom shows the difficulties of family dynamics when one member is dying. Terms of Endearment focuses on the mother-daughter relationship and portrays the dying process and the grief that follows. If children are part of the conversation, The Lion King or Up could help address issues of grief after loss and the fact that death is a normal part of life.

4. Have a few questions ready

Don’t force the conversation but be prepared to get it started with your own comments or questions. For example ask “What’s on your bucket list?” or “What would you give as a gift if you knew it was your last Christmas?” or “How do you think Mufasa’s death changed Simba?”

5. Do it again

In case your first movie night conversation doesn’t go as well as hoped, plan to try again with a different film and a different approach. These conversations are challenging but extremely important so don’t give up on the idea!

Since death is a natural and universal part of our human existence we really should be talking about it on a regular basis. Get creative and imagine how you might bring up the discussion after other films your family might watch together. Remember that families who have talked about death are more likely to have positive experiences when a loved one reaches the end of life. It’s definitely a conversation worth having!

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