She started telling the story of this poor old man who had suffered from a seriously painful decline and, ultimately, death.
Advisor to The Conversation Project
Over my most recent holiday break, I was lucky enough to travel home to Chicago to visit with friends and family. I had a wonderful week at home, the high point of which was hitting the town with my closest high school friends for New Year’s Eve. I had high hopes of getting all dressed up, having one (or two!) champagne toasts with my oldest group of friends, and gallivanting around the city like any other 23-year-old girl.
At first I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Wasn’t there any day of the year that I could escape talking about death? But then I thought to myself and realized how wonderful and how powerful this conversation was.
We all gathered at my friend Anne’s apartment in the city and ordered a few pizzas and drank a few beers. We started getting ready—sparkly dresses came on, make-up was done, and hair was primped and curled. Anne’s table wasn’t quite big enough for all of us to sit around, so some sat on the floor and the radiator. We chatted about all the things we normally talk about—our families, boys we were dating, and our other friends who were scattered around the country. Suddenly, one of my friends started talking about her job as a dietician in a geriatric facility. She started telling the story of this poor old man who had suffered from a seriously painful decline and, ultimately, death. She told us that his kids were in disagreement about what kinds of decisions to make for his care and well-being. As she continued talking, I scanned the room for what I thought would be the glazed-over and uninterested expressions of a group of 23-year-olds. Instead, everyone had put down their beer and was nodding enthusiastically. One by one, each of my friends launched into what they wanted for end-of-life care, or what their parents would want for end-of-life care. On New Year’s Eve.
At first I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Wasn’t there any day of the year that I could escape the topic of death? But then I realized how wonderful and powerful this conversation was. I realized that end-of-life care issues aren’t important only for the frail grandparents who are 80+. Or people who are suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. This was something that my generation could relate to. This is something that every generation can relate to. And has a story about. And I don’t think that can be said for almost anything else.
Mandy Ferguson has been working at The Institute for Healthcare Improvement since 2012. During this time she has worked almost exclusively on The Conversation Project. She graduated from Colby College in Waterville, Maine with a degree in Sociology and Human Development.