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10 Things to Watch Together to Jumpstart Conversations

Posted on 05/27/2021

Looking for a way to bring up what matters to you when it comes to the health care you may or may not want through the end of life? Or, are you looking to ask someone important in your life about their own care wishes but don’t know how to start? Consider using TV shows, movies or documentaries as a way to open up a conversation. From light-hearted to thought provoking, the below sampling of what to watch has a little bit of everything.

TV shows

  • Black-ish (Season 4, Episode 11) : In this episode, a mother sits down with her two adult children to talk about her end-of-life wishes. The son is in denial about his mother’s mortality and this creates tension between the three. Although in this clip the mother primarily alludes to her funeral, this episode clearly (and humorously) highlights how family tension can surface when people avoid talking about the various aspects of complexity that accompany a loved one’s mortality. Our Conversation Starter Guide can help you start talking about what matters most with those who matter most to you.
  • Simpsons One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish (Season2, Episode 11): Homer consumes a poisonous fugu fish at a sushi restaurant and is told he has less than 24 hours to live. He accepts his fate and tries to do everything on his bucket list before he dies. This clip at the end of the episode shows Homer at the end of his Bucket list. A poignant look at living life to the fullest through the end from our favorite cartoon family.
  • Grey’s Anatomy (Season 17): The recent season deals with current realities in this medical drama that follows the personal and professional lives of the doctors at Seattle’s Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. This short clip shows that being someone’s proxy and understanding their wishes for care is important before a medical crisis happens. Pair this with our guides for Being a Health Care Proxy or our Being Prepared in Time of COVID-19 2-pager to get the conversation going after you watch.

Movies/Documentaries

  • Dick Johnson is Dead: In this deeply thought-provoking documentary (available on Netflix), filmmaker Kirsten Johnson imagines various ways her father (who in his mid-80s has clear signs of dementia) might die. With his help, she stages his death in inventive and comical ways to help them both face the inevitable. There are some solid attempts to open “The Conversation,” which are not entirely successful but so illustrative of the challenge and possibility. Lots of love, some dark and quirky humor that will get the conversation going. Pair it with our Conversation Starter Guide.
  • Supernova: In this recent 2021 film, Sam and Tusker are traveling across England in their old RV to visit friends, family and places from their past. Since Tusker was diagnosed with dementia two years ago, their time together is the most important thing they have. This movie can be streamed on several sites now and can be paired with our Guide for Caregivers of People with Alzheimer’s or other forms of Dementia
  • The Farewell: In this movie, we’re introduced to Billi—a young Chinese-American woman who is conflicted when her family refuses to tell her terminally grandmother, Nai Nai, that she is dying of lung cancer. You can pair this movie with this blog piece about The Farewell: Culture’s Role in How We Approach End-of-Life.
  • Clouds: This movie paints the real-life story of Zach Sobiech: a good-humored, likeable teenager; a talented musician and performer; and a patient with terminal osteosarcoma. Learn more and share this blog on Clouds: Confronting Mortality through Film to jump start your own conversations on what matters to those you care about. For caregivers supporting a child living with serious illness, we have this guide to help talk about the health care that’s right for them.
  • Fast Forward: Follow four families as they travel into their futures to take a proactive look at aging. Resources and clips with experts can be found here.
  • Caregiver: A Love Story: When 59-year-old Bambi decides to forgo further treatment for her cancer and die at home, her husband Rick leaves his job to become her primary caregiver—a role for which he has no experience and little support. This film highlights an essential, yet largely unseen workforce—the family caregivers of America. This What Matters to Me Workbook can help those with a serious illness think about and talk about the care they want.
  • Extremis: This academy-award nominated documentary shares the wrenching emotions that accompany end-of-life decisions as doctors, patients and families in a hospital ICU face harrowing choices. The stories shared can prompt conversations about what matters most with those important in your life, including conversations with your health care team.

Think about which of the above might resonate most with those in your life. Watch something together or share a link over text or email saying something like the below (or check out our list of conversation starters here):

  • “I just saw this funny clip and it got me thinking about what really matters….”
  • “Wow, what a powerful movie, what did you think? Have you ever thought about what you may want when it comes to care? I’d love to hear more…”

What’s on your watch list? Share below to help others jump start these conversations.

Want to keep connected to The Conversation Project? Sign-up for our newsletter(s), follow us on social media (TwitterFacebook), download our conversation starter resources and feel free to reach us at ConversationProject@ihi.org.

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