4 generations break bread and taboo. Northern CA

By Shannon Pettypiece

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As the sun set over the Pacific, four generations of Fisher’s family shared pizza, salad, tiramisu — and their views on what they’d like to happen at the end of their lives. Even working in hospice care, Fisher realized death was still a taboo topic around her home and she was anxious to broach the subject. Helping to lighten the mood, all 16 of her friends and relatives, from her 7-year-old granddaughter, Kaya, to her 73-year-old mother, Nan Schwartz, donned gag mustaches that Fisher passed out.

From her work in hospice, Fisher was no stranger to what could happen to a family that had failed to confront death. Yet she was anxious to broach the subject with her own family, where emotions around dying were still raw following the death of her stepson’s mother from cancer several years ago and the recent loss of her brother-in-law’s friend. The silly mustaches combined with wine for the grownups and the pink sunset over the Pacific Ocean helped ease the mood. Soon, the emotions and words were flowing.

“I want to be cremated, I don’t want the box, it creeps me out,” Fisher’s husband Gary, 62, told the group, which included his in-laws, wife and sons from a previous marriage.

It was a somewhat controversial statement considering the family’s Jewish faith, which forbids cremations, Fisher said. She was glad her entire family got to hear her husband’s wishes so there will be no dispute when the time comes.

“Don’t tube me,” Fisher’s mother chimed in. “If I am pooping in my pants or in diapers, I’m out of here.”

“I won’t stop you,” Fisher’s husband joked.

It was the first time Fisher’s mother had told the entire family that she didn’t want any interventions to prolong her life.

Then came the debate over what happens after you’re dead.

“I can’t believe there is nothing else,” said Fisher’s niece Melissa Fisher Goldman, 33. “It is so scary to think there is nothing after.”

“That’s why you believe in it,” her father said. “People just want to believe.”

“I think your soul lives on,” piped up a tiny voice from the back of the patio. It was Fisher’s step-granddaughter Kaya who had been listening to the conversation from her mother’s lap.

Having a plan and talking about it with family is no guarantee that conflicts over finances and medical care won’t arise and the conversations can sometimes lead to more arguing while everyone is still alive. Yet, Fisher said she feels less angst knowing her family now understands what each member wants.

“That evening really prompted more sensitive conversations, not just about death and dying, but in general,” Fisher said by telephone two weeks after the dinner. “It changed people’s comfort level with each other.”

July 12th, 2014