Would You Play A Card Game About Death?
When 93-year-old Rhoda Weiderhorn died on Sunday in Newton, Mass., the family remembered her in meaningful and time-honored ways: a Jewish funeral and memorial service, sitting shiva at night and serving guests Gram’s signature spread: cold cuts, fresh fruit, banana bread and rugelach alongside coffee.
But tucked at the end of her obituary in the Boston Globe was also a more unusual request that Weiderhorn’s grandson inserted. Instead of sending flowers or giving to charity, Jethro Heiko asked those who knew Weiderhorn to a donate to a Kickstarter project for a card game he is developing.
The obituary, full of the standard details of birth, marriages and children, included a link to a page dedicated to Weiderhorn on the website of his Philadelphia-based design firm, The Action Mill:
“My Gift of Grace is a game that helps families and friends talk about death and dying … This is a project that can help us prepare ourselves for life’s endings and to live our lives with greater grace and resilience, two qualities which Rhoda embodied throughout her life,” it said. “Note: for this project to be successful, we need to achieve our fundraising goal by August 9th, so please pledge today and ask your friends to pledge as well.”
It’s working. Along with his three partners at the firm, Heiko, a designer and community organizer who previously ran a bereavement support program for college students, has raised more than $27,000 for the game. The group has printed a prototype, and wants to ship and sell it by the fall to customers including hospitals and hospices, funeral directors and social workers. The total fundraising goal for revisions, testing and manufacturing: $38,000.
“People are contacting me, sharing stories about their experiences with death, saying things like, ‘I would not share this with you, but your project gave me permission to do so,'” says Heiko, 40, who launched the fundraising campaign with his colleagues in early July. Weiderhorn’s death has brought the work even closer to his heart.
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 (What activities make you feel alive?) or statement (Check off from a given range of options about what you think will be the worst part of the end of your life.), then uses those to start conversations with family and friends. The game ends with “action” cards, which double as magnets, and act as reminders to, for example, visit a cemetery and talk to its employees to learn more about death and funerals.
The goal is to to help people express and explore what they want for their lives and deaths — hopefully, long before they die.
“You might give the game to your family when you turn 50, or your parent might give it to you at your graduation,” said Action Mill partner Nick Jehlen. “Playing the game with your loved one is a gift as well. We like to call it an ‘important conversation wrapped in a game and given as a gift’.”
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