Anne Ziff: “Your End Of Life Matters”

In 1978 — when they were in their 60s — Anne Ziff’s parents called. Out of the blue, they said they wanted to discuss where their important papers were. Then her mother asked, “When we die, what will you want?”

“I wanted a scotch!” Anne laughs. “My parents threw me such a curveball.”

But Anne — a marriage and family therapist, with a practice in New York City and (until earlier this month) Westport, where she’s lived since 1974 — grabbed a pen. She began writing.

For over an hour, her parents talked. They told her where they wanted to be buried, the name of their accountant, which bank held their safe deposit box.

Anne kept asking: “Are you sure no one’s sick?”

No one was. Her parents were just following the recommendation of friends, to have important discussions before it’s too late.

Anne Ziff

Ten years later, her mother had a hip replacement. Anne saw her before and after surgery. That evening, she told Anne to go home and get some rest.

At 11 p.m., her mother died.

“I got unglued. That wasn’t supposed to happen,” Anne recalls.

But as the doctor asked questions — where she wanted the body moved, did she prefer burial or cremation, etc. — Anne knew every answer.

“I understood exactly what my mother wanted. I knew which rabbi to call. I knew it all,” she says.

Her mother had thought of something else too.

At the hospital before surgery, she had changed “next of kin” on the notification form, from her husband to her daughter.

“That’s why I got the call that night, instead of my 80-year-old, hard-of-hearing father,” Anne says.

About six years ago, Anne heard Ellen Goodman on NPR. The Pulitzer Prize winning columnist said that when her mother was dying, no one talked about it. When she passed away, no one knew what to do.

“Suddenly, I realized how lucky I was,” Anne says. “That conversation with my parents was one of their best gifts to me.”

She also realized that not everyone received such a gift.

As a family therapist, she knew what to do.

Anne was already leading group workshops at the Senior Center. She wove “how to talk about taboos” into her sessions. The topic was well received.

A year later she presented an outline to faculty counselors in the department of psychiatry at Mt. Sinai Hospital, where she teaches. They listened raptly.

A colleague told her, “This is so important and valuable. We need the information out there. And you’re a writer!”

She sure is. Many years ago, she was a journalist with the Westport News and Fairfield Citizen. She also wrote “Marrying Well: The Clinician’s Guide to Premarital Counseling.”

So Anne has just published “Your End of Life Matters.”

The book offers guidance in figuring out what to talk about — and then how to do it.

“Ninety percent of Americans say it’s important to discuss end-of-life care,” Anne says. “But only 30% do it.”

“Your End of Life Matters” covers everything from a living will and burial arrangements to sharing computer passwords, and what happens if you’re a small business owner and get sick.

Anne’s title has double meaning, of course. It’s about what to do at the end of life — but it also emphasizes the importance of how to prepare.

The book is filled with stories of people who did all this right — and wrong. (“If you’re promised a piece of art, get it in writing!” the author warns.)

She also offers a way to begin the conversation. “Start by saying, ‘I’m healthy. I just want to have this conversation now — because I am healthy!'”

“Death is a part of everyone’s life,” Anne emphasizes. “So have the conversation. Then get on with the fun of living.”

And, she notes, “you live better if you communicate.”

The book is aimed at people 45 and older. But, she adds, “it’s really for everyone. Things happen unexpectedly. People can die right after they have a child.”

Everyone dies. But when they do, not everyone has already given the gift that Anne Ziff’s parents did.

Thanks to her book, many more will have the chance to do so.

And the words to talk about it.


6 responses to “Anne Ziff: “Your End Of Life Matters”

  1. Susan Iseman

    Such important conversations many of us never get to have. Thanks Anne Ziff!

  2. Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

    I can’t begin to say how important this subject is. Those of us who are older need to pay attention and follow this advice. In our combined families, Charlie’s and mine, we have examples of the right way to do this and the wrong way. Talking to your family and making your wishes known is the very best gift you can give them. It is a lasting gift that does not fade or spoil. Just a month ago when both our middle aged sons and families were her at the same time we sat them down and told them everything. Failing to do this can cause heart ache, family arguments and estrangement. Just in case anyone is interested, the least expensive way to die is to make all the arrangements in advance and then enjoy your life and make wonderful memories. Thank you for posting this and sharing. Hey, everyone, buy the book.

  3. Tom Feeley Sr

    Great lady…we rode the rails together and I flipped a penny and Anne called it EVERY TIME 👍🏼🙏🇺🇸

  4. Pamela Singer

    Thanks for this post Dan. v very necessary and life changing. thank you Anne.

  5. Don L. Bergmann

    This is an important conversation. Just as important is for CT to adopt “death with dignity” legislation. Our present State Rep., Jonathan Steinberg, has tried to bring CT into the progressive world on this topic and I have urged his Republican opposition, Greg Kraut, to do the same. CT needs to and should act to address the issue of “right to die”, “death with dignity” and “assisted suicide”. About three weeks ago there was a compelling “op ed” in the NY Times written by Diane Rehm. No one should have to consider changing their residence out of CT in order to address the reality of death in a manner they may determine is the best course of action.
    Don Bergmann

  6. Denise Torve

    Thank you Dan for bringing this important and very helpful book to our attention.