The interface of the website See Your Folks is very soothing. The site’s name appears in a gentle lowercase font—with a heart in the middle of the first o—against a blue-sky background dotted with fluffy white clouds. And then you enter the information asked of you—your parents’ location, their ages, and how often you see them—and are greeted with a stark figure: the number of times you’ll see your parents before they die. Suddenly, those clouds take on a different meaning.
See Your Folks is the brilliant creation of a quartet of British designers who used World Health Organization data on life expectancy to make mortality feel quite a bit less abstract than it usually does. “We believe that increasing awareness of death can help us to make the most of our lives,” the site explains. “The right kind of reminders can help us to focus on what matters, and perhaps make us better people.” That may sound suspiciously New Agey, but science bears that hypothesis out: As Oliver Burkeman documented in a Slate story last Halloween, gentle reminders about death have been demonstrated to make people “more compassionate, happier, and healthier.” But in a society where death remains a taboo, one that most people never learn how to talk about until after their loved ones die, it’s hard to know how to incorporate such gentle reminders into your daily life. See Your Folks strikes just the right balance, delivering a blatant eye-opener while also reminding you that—if your parents are still alive—you have a chance to make the most of their remaining time. (The site predicted that, at my current rate of visits, and if my parents and I both live to average life expectancy, I’ll see my them 82.5 times before they die—which is not enough.)
On the heels of See Your Folks comes another gentle reminder of the fragility of life in the form of a New York Times Magazine cover story about bioethicist Margaret Pabst Battin—a longtime proponent of assisted suicide for the elderly—and her husband, Brooke Hopkins, who was paralyzed from the shoulders down after a bicycling accident. Robin Marantz Henig’s chronicle of the couple’s ongoing negotiation over how and when Hopkins’ life will end is a gripping, devastating portrayal of the messiness of disability and disease—and the inconvenient truth that people often find themselves in tragic, difficult situations they never imagined they would face. Together, See Your Folks and Henig’s article will have you booking tickets to go visit your aging loved ones, stat.
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