Holiday Conversation Starters


Holidays like Thanksgiving are a wonderful time to have meaningful conversation with your friends and family about what matters most.

How do I do that? Here are a few conversation starters that can help! 
  • Do you ever think about what our lives will look like 20 years from now? Where you want to live? What will you value most then?
  • My best friend is Sarah – I want her to be there for me during the good and bad times. What about you? Who comes to mind for you?
  • Oh, I love the memory of Grandpa – how would you like to be remembered?
  • Congrats grandma and grandpa on 50 years of marriage. What was the song played at your wedding? What did you love about each other when you were married and has that changed now?
  • Look at how organized Suzy and Steve to throw this wonderful party and dinner spread – I bet you are so organized you have all your “stuff” in order right?
There are so many ways to start the conversation that don’t need to bring a party down – let’s just say that we believe that meaningful conversation isn’t to talk about how to brine a turkey 🙂 Life can be truly fulfilling and meaningful if we take a moment to reflect and find the door of opportunity to start these conversations.



First Annual Party of Thanksgiving



Fall is often the season for Thanksgiving, for many it is a time to give thanks for life’s blessings, friends, family and the little things we often take for granted. For us, the season is a perfect opportunity to express our appreciation and gratitude for the community serving patients and families.

On November 11th we hosted Departing Decisions First Annual Party of Thanksgiving – to thank providers helping families with end of life planning and during the difficult moments when illness, death and grief take hold. It also happened to be Veteran’s Day so our candle lighting ceremony included a moment of gratitude and honor towards those who serve and have served our country.



Our vision was to create a warm, relaxing, and rejuvenating evening – for those who provide support and care for others to take a moment to care for themselves. Music from Sacred Flight and Threshold Choir, delicious food and drinks along with a ceremony presented by a great supporter and Departing Decisions community member, Holly Pruett – Life Cycle Celebrant. A tree of gratitude, an interactive art display was shared to give guests an opportunity write on a leaf what they were thankful for and then attach it to the tree. By the end of the evening every branch was full! What made the night even more special was the women from Threshold Choir stayed after the ceremony to invite guests to partake in a song bath— a chance for individuals to sit back, relax, and receive songs of care, chosen just for them. The beauty of the evening continued even after everyone left – we were able to donate the extra food to the Red Cross warming shelter held in the church gymnasium and the tree of gratitude was handed down to a teacher for use in her classroom – how great is that!

Here is what guests and participants had to say about our inaugural event:

“Departing Decisions Thanksgiving party was a truly wonderful event!  It was so enjoyable and encouraging to meet so many professionals whose values and mission align with what we do!”

“It was such a rich time for us; I am still digesting the nourishment of time spent talking and singing with people there.  Our singers were enlivened by the experience, joy still alive in singers I talked to today.”

“Lovely event, Angela! It truly reflected the mission, and I was delighted to be part of celebrating the success of Departing Decisions.”

We are already envisioning how grand next year’s event will be! Do you know of community members who should be included in next year’s event? Please contact us here.

Additional thanks goes to:
Nathan Williams from VanEarl Photography for capturing the evening.
Our advertisers who’s financial support enable the guide to reach thousands throughout the Portland Metro area.
Our ambassadors who share the guide in their community.
Friends of Departing Decisions for their continued support.
Imago Dei Community Church for their support and the ability to use their facility that evening.


What In The World Is A Death Cafe?

The name caught your attention didn’t it? That is the point!

Death Cafe’s are a worldwide movement to talk about DEATH. Why would people do such a thing you ask? Well, despite death being a taboo topic in American culture, Death Cafe’s are popping up all over the US after launching in the UK in September 2011. As of today there have been almost 900 death cafe’s worldwide. What happens at Death Cafe’s?

There is no agenda, objectives or theme but rather a group directed discussion of death but not necessarily a grief support or counseling session. Death Cafe’s thrive on the following principles, which makes them a unique event that individuals find to be a safe and warm environment to have discussions about the very few certainties in life.

Death Cafe’s are offered on a not for profit basis, Iin an accessible, respectful and confidential space, with no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action, alongside refreshing drinks and nourishing food – and cake!

Death Cafe’s in The News

Video about Death Cafe’s from Portlander Kate Brassington

BBC Interview with Jon Underwood, Death Cafe Founder

The Legacy of my Grandmother – Happy 90th Birthday Ruthie!

Today, we celebrate the 90th Birthday of my grandmother Ruthie!

I often think about what it would be like to talk with my Grandma like I did when I was a younger, but sadly she has severe dementia. It makes it hard to want to go visit her, despite the encouragement from family to do so. I feel like I was the closest to her of all her grandchildren, yet why can’t I get the courage to go visit her? It is so hard to try and pretend that everything is ok and have a normal conversation with her, she doesn’t make much sense. I am thankful for my husband Don who has made many of the trips with me to see her.

Many who are friends and family or have asked “How did you get into the death business?” know that it is because of my Grandmother. After my Grandfather passed away in 2008 we had several close calls with grandma, the kind where the entire family gathers round in the hospital and just hopes we get to keep grandma around just a little longer. Statistics show that the last survivor in a marriage as long as they had (60 years) end up dying shortly after their deceased spouse.  It was after one of those close calls that I started to think about how we would honor my grandmothers life and what type of funeral we would have for her. It was time to start getting some of those things in order, so that when we are faced with the inevitable we can focus on what matters most, instead of having to spend time with all the details necessary for a funeral arrangements.

My grandfather had a beautiful ceremony, representing his involvement as an Elks Lodge Exalted Ruler, his love for fishing and the honor for his country as a US Navy Gunner (read an article about my Grandfather’s service during the bombing of Pearl Harbor here).

My grandmother was the housewife, the glue that kept the family together, the one that brought the laughter and entertainment to so many as a fabulous hostess. She raised 3 children, was quite the fashionista and so kindly knew the value of the words “Thank you” and even to this day, nurses have said she continually would say thank you for their help. Now I know why those words are so powerful to me.

I identify a lot with my grandmother, her humor, her love to entertain, to give back to the community and for the color red. Every time I go for an ole fashion hamburger and milkshake I think of the times we would go together to enjoy them. We could play a mean game of 21, even if she was giving me her jar of pennies to gamble with as a child. Oh how I wish I could play a few games with her now. If Grandma was younger I imagine us getting all dolled up, wearing matching red patent leather heals and hosting a fabulous holiday party together!

Grandma, I love you and wish you a wonderful and HAPPY 90th Birthday!


Wisdom of Life – Let Your Wisdom Live On With A Wisdom Will®

Does my life have meaning? How will I be remembered? What kind of legacy will I leave behind?  How can we harness some of the meaning and purpose of our lives and keep it from being lost or buried with us? Encapsulating our wisdom of life, our values, the lessons we have learned from adversity, where we have garnered strength, our beliefs and values and our prayers and blessings for loved ones and community can all be captured by writing a Wisdom Will®. A Wisdom Will is a legacy letter originating from the ancient Jewish Tradition on an ethical will. (I did not like the connotations attached to the word ethical, so I trademarked the name Wisdom Will.) It is a letter that links us to our survivors for generations and is a priceless and timeless treasure. Less daunting than a memoir, this grand gesture is an easy way to pass on our life’s learning and our wisdom of life.

Dr. Barry K. Baines book, Ethical Wills: Putting your values on paper inspired me to explore the Jewish tradition of the ethical will. In their tradition, the ethical will is a Mitzvah, or commandment, something God ordains one to do.

This practice dates back more than 3000 years. The first generally regarded evidence is in the Old Testament, Genesis Chapter 49. On his death bed, Jacob gathers his twelve sons around him so that he might bequeath his blessings, instructions and advice. In the New Testament, Christians find Jesus offering the same to his apostles. The practice of passing on one’s personal legacy, or one’s cultural legacy is not unique to Judaism. It is common among many ethnic and religious groups.

In antiquity the tradition was oral. When writing became common, ethical wills were written and read to loved ones and friends after death. Through the years, the practice lost its significance and few people wrote them. After 9/11, they began to resurface. The unpredictability of life smacked all of us in the face. We were forced to acknowledge that the unexpected happens. How wonderful it would have been for the families of those who perished in this tragedy to have Wisdom Wills from their loved ones. “Your Uncle Don died in Tower 1, but this is what life meant to him and what he wanted us to remember him for.” A Wisdom Will is something tangible to hang onto in times of overwhelming grief, bringing our loved one close to us even after they are gone.

Wisdom Wills bequeath wisdom; legal wills bequeath valuables. The greatest inheritance we can give or receive is one from the heart, and a document such as this comes from the very core of our being–an intimate place. In order for this learning to become long-lasting, we must share it.

Dr. Ira Byock, author of Dying Well, says that there are 5 tasks that people need to complete to experience relationship completion and peace at death. They are saying forgive me; I forgive you; thank you; and I love you. As death nears, the final task is to say goodbye (140).

These days, people are writing Wisdom Wills™ at turning points in their lives–before the birth of a child, prior to major surgery, when hearing one is terminally ill, before a graduation or Bar/Bat Mitzvah, soldiers in wars, losing a spouse or partner, and other life changing points as well as when one hears about them and becomes interested. Wisdom Wills are part of one’s legacy planning.

Though these documents vary in length from one to forty pages or more, we all have a plethora of information to mull over. David H. Kuhl, M.D., remarks,

Meaning, values, and purpose in life are often difficult to describe or speak about. The simplicity of childhood—right and wrong, black and white, true and false—changes to shades of gray and uncertainty in adulthood. Some people find comfort in religion or other spiritual practices. What was the religious tradition in your childhood, in your home, in your community? Have you ever had a religious experience? How did it come about? What were the immediate and long-term effects? Are there symbols in your life that are important to you? What principles guide your life? How does nature fit into your understanding of meaning or spirituality? What has given your life meaning in the past? Have there ever been times when your life felt meaningless? How has your sense of spirituality changed [over the years]? (What Dying People Want 152).

As a writing launch, consider composing a personal mission statement. The following is my personal mission statement:

I endeavor to live my life recognizing the equality of all human beings; seeking the light in others—no matter how difficult. I endeavor to be a messenger of compassion, hope and peace to those who suffer; doing all that I can to protect the planet; and, with God’s help, walk always in the footsteps of love.

These declarations are short and succinct, helping define who we are and what we stand for; they are tuning forks for living. We all embrace personal standards for living; these are the essence of our mission statements. Forming these ideals in word form may be a greater challenge than composing the entire Wisdom Will.

I like people to close their document with a statement such as: “I’d like to be remembered as….” My children often refer to me as a Lucille Ball, but I’d rather be remembered as a compassionate person, one who cared about humanity and tried to alleviate suffering wherever I found it. We have some control in how we will be remembered if we express our wishes in our Wisdom Will.

Wisdom Wills™ encapsulate the best of our past, present and future. Not meant to harass people from the grave, these documents are intended to uplift, give encouragement and are opportunities to share life strategies with others. They are positive documents.

Some people use a stream of consciousness approach selecting what they want to write about from it, or they make a list of questions to draw from. Limit what you talk about to a maximum of ten main points unless you want to write an autobiography or memoir. While these too are wonderful legacy documents, Wisdom Wills are shorter and more succinct. As works in progress, add to them from time to time as you grow. You may want to attach addendums; for example, family legends and stories.

Trust your instincts—look to the past to identify life’s pivotal points; look to the present for where you find strength, hope, joy and love and look to the future to offer sentiments and blessings, hope and encouragement.

Today is a good day to envision your legacy. Today is a good day to start writing. ##

Linda Ross Swanson offers individual Wisdom Will consultations and workshops for 6 people or more. To arrange a consultation or workshop please call her at 503.267.7550.


Remember Pearl Harbor – My Grandfather’s Story

Departing Decisions Founder Angela Kienholz shares a personal reflection about the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

December 7, 2011 – It is 8pm here on the West Coast, and although most of today’s Pearl Harbor memorial events have already finished I still felt compelled to write a post about what happened 70 years ago today. This morning I watched a special on the Today Show sharing the story of the men who served our country and the day filled with memorial ceremonies. I started to think about my grandfather who died in June 2008, I remember his military funeral like it was yesterday.

Afterwards I decided to call my uncle to find out about my grandfather’s military service during World War II and where he was during the Attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941. It really is a story of close calls. My grandfather was on the USS Lexington, which had just left Pearl Harbor port the day prior on December 6th. The Lexington was on a mission with Task Force 12 to deliver U.S. Marine Corps warplanes to help reinforce the base at Midway Island. The Lexington was 400 nautical miles away from Pearl Harbor, and because of its close distance to the attacks, it could have easily been part of the days devastation. My grandfather along with the over 2,000 officers and men of the Lexington changed course and rushed back to Honolulu only to discover the severity of the aftermath. The crew of the Lexington served our country in the following days by cleaning up the rubble and bodies from the attack before heading out to sea for war.  2,402 Americans were killed and 1,282 were wounded that day.   1,177 alone died from from the sinking of the USS Arizona.

After the attacks, my grandfather had his second close call with tragedy.  He had volunteered to rebuild one of the Navy’s gunnery schools that was destroyed during the attack of Pearl Harbor, which took him off the ship and onto land.   Sadly, at age 19 my grandfather had to grieve the loss of many friends on the USS Lexington after it was struck and sunk by a torpedo on May 7th, 1942 during the Battle of The Coral Sea – including the man who took his place on deck.  Many men survived the torpedo and battle, but over 300 men were trapped below deck on the Lexington after the explosions and could not be saved due to the horrific fires as it sank.

Today is a day of reflection for many, including me. What better way to honor my grandfather and all our veterans than to share this story!

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