05 August 2013

A Game About Dying

I made friends with someone recently who cares deeply about the process of dying. Her background is hospice care (among other interests) and she keeps a blog that is about “the spiritual practice of contemplating death as a way of living life more fully.”

Most people would not put “death” in the same category as “play” but in talking with my new acquaintance one day I discovered the two go hand-in-hand. As I described PlayFull to her, her eyes lit up because she instantly saw how the process of dying (and the practice of being a companion to someone in their dying) was an intrinsically playful process.

Play, at its fullest, is a vulnerable practice. It involves a posture of openness in which we let another see our real self, with no pretension, no hypocrisy, no concern for image. We play when we come to the place where we say, “I don’t have anything to lose! I may as well be myself and embrace the joy, freedom and grace of doing so. I have space to play and imagine.”

In that light, it could be said that those who are at their most helpless are those who can truly play. This, I believe, is why my friend saw play as something that coincides with her calling to come alongside those who are near death. She experiences her vocation in hospice care as playful.

On Saturday, she forwarded a link to me on Twitter. She drew my attention to a game someone has developed that helps people open up to talk freely about end-of-life questions. The game is called “My Gift of Grace”.

An article in The Huffington Post explains the game in further detail:

“The game doesn't have winners or losers. Instead, it uses cards divided into questions, statements and activities. To start the game, each player fills out a card that has a question…or statement…, then uses those to start conversations with family and friends. The game ends with "action" cards, which double as magnets, and act as reminders…”

"’A lot of people think a game about death and dying sounds sad and scary, but our experience is the more you do it, the more it allows you to be joyful about day-to-day life,’ said Jehlen, 42, who tested the game by playing it with colleagues, and sought the input of chaplains and health-care workers.”

A cardiac surgeon who was interviewed for the article says this about approaching the topic of death from a playful angle: “’What I see, particularly with some people in the aging population, is that if you approach a conversation about the end of life it brings up a wall. So if instead what you are doing is playing a game and talking about things or activities that are important in their lives and coming at it from the direction of letting family know about their desires, it bridges a gap. Some people need a nudge.’”

Mindfulness about the process of dying can encourage us to “carry ourselves more lightly.” It puts all lesser challenges into perspective and thus deepens an appreciation for life. Considering end-of-life questions, surprisingly, can help us live more playfully.



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