Looking back on her experience with breast cancer, Kay Stangel can confidently say that she is more aware of how the gift of herself and her legacy are so important to share, and even more so since she has been in recovery and cancer-free for five years.
“When I was faced with my diagnosis, the first thing I thought of was my children, of course,” shared Stangel. “I felt an overwhelming need to be sure they really, really knew me so that if the prognosis was not good, I would remain present to them through the knowledge of who I am and what matters to me. The interesting thing is that even though I am lucky enough to say I am cancer-free, I learned that those conversations are still so valuable and meaningful. I never want my family to say that there is something they’d wish they had known’ about me some day.”
She is not alone in her feelings regarding the importance of having these conversations. Though deaths from cancer have declined 23 percent over the past 21 years (according to the American Cancer Society), many families are not as fortunate. Lori Radde lost her mother to ovarian cancer just a few years ago.
“It was just six months from her diagnosis to her passing,” said Radde, “and most of that time was spent in medical appointments, treatments and battling the disease. Once we realized that she would not recover, we hardly had time to say or share all the things we wanted to with each other. There are many things I wish I had known about my mother – her hopes and dreams from when she was young, stories about her childhood, why her mission trips were so important. I wish we had started these conversations sooner and had enjoyed that before we were faced with a life-threatening illness. I just didn’t realize how important that would be, and I don’t know if I would have known how to begin to have those conversations,” Radde concluded.
For those families dealing with the loss of their loved one, these conversations can be crucial in helping them through their grief. According to a study conducted by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FAMIC), an overwhelming majority of Americans over the age of 40 said that the memorial service was an important part in helping them begin the healing process after the death of a loved one. So, it’s extremely important to have these conversations, but people don’t always know where to begin. That’s where Have the Talk of A Lifetime® comes in.
Have the Talk of a Lifetime is a public service initiative by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FAMIC www.famic.org). Families often want to learn more about the rich lives their grandparents, parents and other loved ones have led; however, they may be unsure about how to begin a conversation.
On the Have the Talk of a Lifetime website, www.talkofalifetime.org, families will find a wide range of free tools and information. The site features a downloadable workbook filled with advice on how to start a conversation and discussion questions to help families get to know their loved ones in new and surprising ways.
Advice and Tips on Getting Started
Simply begin to tell your stories. You can answer questions like: • What do you feel was your proudest achievement? • What was the one piece of advice you received from your own parents or grandparents that you never forgot? • What was the most memorable summer you had growing up, and why? • Talk about your favorite teacher. What did you learn from him or her?
The talks can be informal, and can take place over time in any situation – a cup of coffee, a fishing trip, dinner, a trip to the grocery store.
Make use of photos or family memorabilia, recipes, keepsakes as conversation starters.
“It’s odd to say, but cancer brought me closer to my children and my family in a way that I could not have anticipated,” said Stangel. “I think that having a deeper understanding of all of the people in my life, and for them to have a deeper understanding of me is invaluable – my goal is that I will never have to say ‘I wish I had known’ something about my mom, or my dad, my husband, my kids,” concluded Stangel. “However, I don’t think you should wait for a cancer diagnosis to do it [Have the Talk] – do it now.”
For more information or resources to get you started with the Talk of a Lifetime, visit www.talkofalifetime.org.