【Relay-essay】I tried a “life meeting” on New Year’s Day, and even an elementary school student enjoyed it (Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Professor Naoki Kondo, Field of Social Epidemiology)


Every year, on January 2nd, which is my mother’s birthday, the three siblings and their families gather at their parents’ home for the New Year. There are currently 16 people and one dog. We literally cram into the small living room (10-tatami mat size) of our parents’ home, exchange New Year’s sake (a lot), eat osechi dishes (Japanese traditional New Year’s meals), distribute otoshidama (a special allowance that adults give to children on New Year), and eat birthday cake. We hadn’t seen each other for a while because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so we were especially happy to be in touch with each other in a packed state this year.

The fun after the cake was to have a bingo game where we competed for the “prizes” that my mother, who loves shopping, had bought at the local bargains and travel destinations, such as hand towels, kitchenware, and toys. However, there was no bingo game this year. One reason was that my mother’s “shopping trips” had been delayed by the pandemic.

I wondered what to do with the empty time. So I suggested, “Let’s have a life meeting.” A “life meeting” is a general term for what is called advance care planning (ACP) in the medical field. It is a way of planning how to spend the end of life and how to deal with treatment while you are still healthy. My parents are getting older, and I was looking for a timing to do it soon.

I used a thing called “Min-labo Card” devised by my friends who were physicians. It is a “life meeting game” where you talk about what you want to do and what you value after being diagnosed with three months to live due to cancer. The cards have things like “I want to go on a trip”, “I want to write a will”, and “I want to receive the care I want”. You exchange the cards you have on hand with the cards you put on the table, and create your own image of how to end your life.

It was more exciting than I expected, and the results were also interesting. “Wow, there are so many ways to live the last!” I exclaimed. As an impression, I thought I could classify them into categories such as “do everything before dying”, “value connection”, and “want to conclude life”. The children stood out as “do everything (I want to before dying)”. They chose cards such as “I want to challenge what I wanted to do” and “I want to eat what I like”. I felt the regret of wanting to experience so much more, and I was choked by the words of my nieces and nephews who explained the cards they chose.

There seemed to be a tendency for each family. My younger sister’s family had “laughter” as their keyword. They said they wanted to “value humor” and “make the people around them laugh at the end”, and they didn’t forget to care for the people who would be left behind. My older sister’s family had many “value connection” people who wanted to “hug their close friends” and “say goodbye to their important people” in the intimate connection at the end. By the way, my family had many “want to conclude life” people who had many cards such as “I want to write a will” and “I want to work on the unfinished work”.

I was also pleasantly surprised that everyone participated with enthusiasm. I was a little worried before I started, thinking that it might not be a good idea to bring up a gloomy topic on New Year’s Day as a medical professional, but it was totally unfounded. I thought it might be too difficult for the children, so I did the first round with only adults, but in the middle of it, my elementary school nephew said, “I want to do it too!” So I let him join the second round. He also enjoyed participating, and at the end he told me his own way of ending his life.

“Looking at death is looking at life,” they say, and it was a New Year’s Day that made me feel that. Death is an event surrounded by empathy and compassion. Creating a social system that allows everyone to have the end they want is a very important topic for my specialty, public health, which aims to create a healthy and happy society. To advance this, the first step is probably for all of us to imagine how we want to end our lives and nurture a caring heart for each other. …But while saying that, it was something I had never thought about myself, so it was a very good opportunity.

So, I recommend having a “life meeting” with your family on New Year’s Day!

Photo: The five cards I have chosen: “I want to tackle the work I have left undone”, “I have a medical professional I can truly trust”, “I want to write a will”, “I want to be in touch with nature, like the mountains”, “I want to organize my finances and inheritance” At the end of my life, this is how I want to live, so please everyone!

Naoki Kondo
Professor of Social Epidemiology,
Department of Social Epidemiology, Kyoto University School of Public Health
URL: https://socepi.med.kyoto-u.ac.jp/en/
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