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The ultimate awkward conversation

Posted by Robin Abrahams  April 6, 2012 09:21 AM

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Death has been on my mind this week, readers. On Tuesday I learned that a friend of mine, a man in his early 40s or late 30s, died unexpectedly in his home. He was someone I'd worked with 10 years ago, and by a happy coincidence we were in New York at the same time in December, and able to get together. 

He had moved to Australia, and when he went back after his winter visit to the U.S., he wrote on Facebook how good it had been to come back an see some of his old friends. He wrote of how we all had such potential when he had moved, and that it was beautiful to return and see how many of us had done the things he knew we could: had children, written books, gotten degrees. He said he was proud of us. 

It's good to have that to hold on to. Really, tell people these things when you think of them. 

And in two weeks I am going to the Midwest to have some difficult conversations with the ConductMom. Here is an outstanding op-ed from the New York Times about these kinds of conversations: 

Yet only 69 percent had discussed end-of-life care with a spouse; just 17 percent, or 40 percent of those over 65, had done so with their children. One-third of Americans had a living will and even fewer have taken the more legally enforceable measure of appointing a health care proxy to act on their behalf if they cannot act for themselves. 
The latter omission is especially disturbing because by 2030, more than 8.5 million Americans will be over 85 -- an age at which roughly half will suffer from Alzheimer's disease or some other form of irreversible dementia. For many members of the baby boom generation -- more likely to be divorced and childless than their parents -- there may be no legal next of kin.
I think about this kind of thing whenever I get letters from couples who can't figure out who should pay for what at the wedding. Someday you are going to have to have much harder financial and spiritual conversations with your family members. Use the relatively easy stuff to learn about their priorities and values, and get some practice talking about awkward things. Because someday, we all face harder choices than a reception guest list.  
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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