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Thank you to all of our backers for making our Kickstarter a success!
My Gift of Grace is a game that helps families and friends talk about death, dying, and what they want at the end of their lives. It helps people get unstuck.
We’ve found that conversations about death can actually improve our quality of life. They help us get perspective and focus on the things that are most important to us in the here and now.
Sharing how you think about the end of your life is also one of the most important gifts you can give to the people who are close to you. Letting them know how you feel about end-of-life issues can save them from a lot of guilt, trauma, and expense down the road in the event they need to make decisions for you.
The sooner you talk about death and dying with the people who are close to you, the sooner you’ll start getting the benefits of these conversations. And the more practice you get at it, the better you’ll be when a crisis makes these conversations impossible to avoid.
But we all know this isn’t easy. My Gift of Grace is an on-ramp – it makes starting these conversations easier, and it has features built in to help you continue them.
You can help make My Gift of Grace available to everyone who wants help talking about death and dying
We’re hard at work making a version of My Gift of Grace that can be manufactured and widely distributed. That means finishing the design, honing the game play, designing the packaging and lining up manufacturers. We’ve launched this Kickstarter campaign to fund the work of completing the game. If we’re successful, we’ll be able to start shipping in October, and our Kickstarter backers will be the first to get the game.
How the game works
Each person has their own My Gift of Grace box with three types of cards: Questions, Statements, and Activities. During each turn, the group fills out either a Question or Statement Card silently. This card is then used to start a short discussion based on the answers each person gave. Additional cards can be used to extend a conversation or to move on from a topic that someone is finding too upsetting.
Each Question card has a question about an end-of-life topic – what a person values, what they believe, or what kind of care they are comfortable with. Each player writes their answers on their set of cards, so each player will need their own set to play the game.
Statement cards are examples of things other people have said about the end of their lives. Each player edits a card to make them reflect their beliefs, so each person winds up with a set of statements that are true for them.
At the end of the game, each person chooses one or more Activity cards, which include things you can do right away to improve your life and ways to extend the conversation you’ve had during the game. Each player writes the date on which they will do their activity as a way of making a commitment to the other players.
As a further nudge to keep the conversations going, a magnetic game piece is included that you can use to stick your activity cards on your fridge.
At the end of the game, you have a box full of details on how you think about the end of your life, and you’ve had an important conversation with people who care about you. Because of this conversation, you’ll be better prepared to talk with caregivers about your end-of-life wishes.
After the game is over, the completed box is a condensation of your wishes. It is designed to be displayed in your home to spark further conversation and be available for you to update.
What it takes to make a game
Our team has a lot of experience with printing, so we knew two things: printing can be expensive at low volume, and it’s cheaper if you source overseas. That’s why there aren’t many games made in the US anymore. We decided to see if we could buck that trend.
So, we set a goal of making a minimum run of 2,000 for the first edition of the game and started talking with US-based printers and box manufacturers. Their response was more than enthusiastic: two days later there were representatives in our Philadelphia office walking us through the specs and talking to us about how to reduce costs while still making a high-quality game, printed in Pennsylvania and assembled in Rhode Island. They even helped us figure out how make a bigger set of cards than the prototypes you’ll see in the photos and video above, so there will be more room for you to write your thoughts and wishes on your cards.
Why you should get more than one
During the game, each person fills out one set of cards, so you'll need your own to play. That's why we're offering plenty of reward levels that come with more than one set of the game.
There are plenty of reward levels that offer more than one set of the game. When you play the game, each person fills out one set of cards, so you’ll need your own to play.
And then there’s the other reason: We’ve got a lot of work to do to finish designing this game, complete user testing, manage the manufacturing and fulfillment, and create the community website so that you can spread your good ideas about how to make the game even better.
All of that takes time, energy, and care – and when you back us at higher amounts, you’ll help us make My Gift of Grace even better.
Why we designed the game as a gift
Giving is good for us. Study after study shows that for all ages, generosity makes us happier and healthier and creates social connections. That’s why we’re designing My Gift of Grace with a strong emphasis on giving. Anyone can buy the game and play it, but it becomes even more meaningful when you give it to the people you care about.
You might give sets of My Gift of Grace to your family on your 50th birthday as a way of inviting them to talk with you, or you might receive it from your parents when you graduate from college. You could give sets to your book club or to your teammates – anyone you think could use a nudge to have these important conversations sooner.
And when you play the game, you’re giving a second kind of gift: a gift of clarity for your loved ones that will help them avoid some of the trauma and guilt if they have to make decisions for you about end-of-life care.
You probably have your own ideas about how to give My Gift of Grace to the people you care about. Our website will provide a place to share these ideas and experiences.
What inspired this game
We started thinking about gifts and giving after reading about Martha Keochareon, a nurse from South Hadley, Massachusetts. When Martha, who had been a nurse for 20 years, found out she had pancreatic cancer, she called the nursing school she’d graduated from and offered herself as a lesson to students who wanted to learn about the experience of hospice first hand.
Martha’s example led us to rethink what we’d assumed about people at the end of their lives, what they might need, and what they and their families might want to give. Hearing her story helped us get unstuck and start thinking about new ways to help people talk about end-of-life issues.
That’s why we’re also offering My Gift of Grace as a gift that people nearing the end of their life can give to their loved ones. For example, a friend of yours who has received a terminal diagnosis might decide to give My Gift of Grace to her community. She could give you a set of My Gift of Grace when you visit, or she could work with her family to make arrangements so that sets are available at her memorial service. In this way, she can leave a legacy of better end-of-life planning.
What inspired us to want to work on death and dying
Our design firm, The Action Mill, helps people create better habits and more healthy workplaces. As part of our research, we talk with a lot of people who work in difficult jobs to learn about how they handle stress. Over the past year, we've been talking with hospice nurses, chaplains and funeral home directors.
These discussions helped us realize that we are often woefully unprepared to deal with death when we arrive at the moments in our lives when we can not avoid facing it. We don’t know how to have the kinds of conversations that we need to when they are most urgent because we spend most of our lives avoiding this difficult terrain. If we hope to do better, we must become more familiar with the landscape where life and death overlap.
This work inspired us to start the Death & Design project, where we celebrate people who are using creativity and design to bring the unsaid and unseen into the light.
Examples of previous work by The Action Mill
The Decision Making Game
If you want to make good decisions as a group, it helps to have clarity about roles, investment, and boundaries. The Decision Making Game is a board game that walks groups through a clear decision-making process, step by step.
Worth While Gaming
What do you get when you cross a slot machine with a savings bond? A new kind of gambling that replaces short-term loss with long-term benefit for the players.
Death and Design
Our contribution to the growing community of people, companies and organizations that are helping to unhide death and bring this taboo topic into the light. Our work on My Gift of Grace evolved from the many conversations we had with this community.
What's the best way to get two countries whose leaders have demonized each other to engage in diplomacy? Start with average citizens. We set up direct phone links in cities around the US that linked to volunteers we recruited in Iran, giving Americans and Iranians the chance to talk directly to each other.
Philly’s Ballot Box
When Philadelphians were denied the right to vote on whether they wanted casinos in their neighborhoods, we helped them build their own parallel election system in four weeks. We designed a secure online and phone balloting system (that was released as an open-source project) and in-person voting stations that were used by tens of thousands of voters on Election Day.
One of the many methods we’ve developed to improve effectiveness and reduce stress at work. Guilt Hour is a weekly ritual that clears out obstacles and helps teams work together.
Davis Square Tiles Project
We turned a 30-year-old public art project in a subway station in Somerville, Massachusetts, into a tool that reveals hundreds of perspectives on transportation, development, and a changing city.
Responses so far
“...I write to tell you that I do believe that this project was totally inspired by spirit. It is absolutely wonderful and moving and loving.” - Elena
“I think this product would have been so helpful to my brother and I when my mother was dying. She was the kind of person that would have purchased this...If we had used the a Gift of Grace cards while she was healthy, I think it would have been fun and a useful tool for the three of us.” - Becky
“This is a beautiful, immensely important project. My mother is 88 years old and I am visiting with her this week to tackle these exact issues. She wants to stop worrying about EOL (End of Life) and just make her wishes known. I have four siblings that need to get on-board with this issue for Mom. I would love to purchase this immediately and I am sure I would buy several more in the future for gifts.” - Margie
“Wonderful idea. Much needed.” - Janet
“Thank you for your work—so essential to moving families and individuals forward in describing and documenting preferences re: end of life options. I wish this had been available before my father passed a few years ago!” - Linda
Spread the word!
If you believe this game will make a difference for you, your friends and your loved ones, please click the Facebook and Twitter links right under the video at the top of this page! This is the most important thing you can do today to help this project succeed.
Who’s behind this project?
The Action Mill is a design firm based in Philadelphia that focuses on habit change. We were founded eight years ago, and along the way we’ve designed games for making better decisions, habits for getting more work done without burning out, and tools for having difficult conversations.
The Action Mill is: Nick Jehlen, Georgia Guthrie, Jethro Heiko, and Rob Peagler.
Georgia is a designer and maker. She uses design thinking to help solve big, intractable problems. In addition to her design work at the Action Mill, Georgia is the Director of The Hacktory, where she creates opportunities for anyone to creatively tinker and learn about technology.
Georgia is doing this project in memory of her aunt, Valerie Meeker, who died suddenly and unexpectedly. Aunt Val was a warm and loving person, and though her family still struggles to talk about death and dying, she would have appreciated the opportunity to have the kinds of conversations My Gift of Grace provides.
Jethro is a designer and community organizer. Following the death of his father 20 years ago, Jethro founded REFLECT, the 5 College Bereavement Support Program, which worked to help college students cope with the loss of a loved one.
Jethro works on this project in memory of his Faculty Advisor, Gareth Matthews, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Gary’s support helped bring Jethro through the darkness and continues to help him stay in the light.
Nick specializes in the design of space for challenging conversations. Nick’s tools and methods break the limiting beliefs of organizations and individuals about their ability to affect change. He was the lead organizer of the Enough Fear project and led the development of the online, phone, and in-person voting system for Philly’s Ballot Box.
Nick works on this project in memory of his aunt, Fran Deats, whose encouragement still rings in his ears whenever he’s tackling a tough problem.
Over his career, Rob has lent his human-centered design chops to helping individuals, teams and organizations conduct meaningful, principled and effective work. Within the Action Mill he is particularly focused on the development of strategies to align multiple stakeholders to effect large-scale and sustainable systems change.
Rob co-founded the Design Studio for Social Intervention (DS4SI) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, worked as a strategist on the W. K. Kellogg Foundation's New Options Project, and was a member of IBM Research's Market Analysis & Strategy group.
Rob dedicates his work on this project to his cousin Allison Hartshorne, who gave him a great example of how to live a life with joy, gusto, and love, and to end it with grace.
Risks and challenges
Any kind of manufacturing carries risks, as does handling and shipping thousands of games. We’re working with a US-based printer and boxmaker so that we’ll be able to visit the manufacturing plants and keep in close touch with the people turning our idea into a product. And we’re partnering with a US-based fulfillment center as well, so our shipping and handling will be managed by experts.
Making a game that helps people talk about death and dying is difficult. We have a lot of experience designing products for people having hard conversations, but the only way to know how this game works is to try it. That’s why we’ll be doing extensive user testing over the summer. We’re prepared to make adjustments to the cards, gameplay, and instructions based on this testing. We’re committed to making this a game that people will use, and to do that we’ve made time in our production schedule for changes and adjustments.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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