There’s nothing in life that can’t be improved by adding pizza, and this includes conversations about death.
These two concepts may seem incompatible, but breaking bread provides a safe place to share concerns and ask questions about such a shrouded topic. Most Americans know what death means, but they have no idea how to prepare for it.
This statement is particularly true for young adults in college, though this type of discussion isn’t always welcome on our campuses. A former Conversation Project intern once suggested holding a Death Over Dinner event on her campus, but a university administrator hesitated, concerned the conversation could be a potential trigger for students who have experienced trauma or are battling suicide. As a student of Northeastern University who understands the significance of this topic, I urge universities to facilitate end-of-life discussions on their campuses through the Conversation Project.
Our culture is fascinated by confronting and overcoming death, but not with understanding it. Despite the belief that we are invincible, many millennials will confront the reality of death during college, whether by losing a loved one or a peer. The deaths of other young people rattle us the most — they remind us of our own vulnerability and impermanence.
I polled a few of my friends to find out what they knew about end-of-life care. Only two of the ten knew what a medical proxy is; they were both health science majors. College students should know they must name their parents as their proxy if they want them to speak on their behalf, and that this is only automatic for youth under 18. These conversations are paramount in both preparing us for our own end-of-life wishes, and those of our loved ones.
There are certain questions I do not want to ask myself when a loved one faces death. Among them are: Who is their health care proxy? Have they written an advanced directive? Who do they want with them when they pass? Why did I never ask them these things sooner?
The only thought more unsettling than having to ask those questions yourself is having your loved ones ask them about you, and having no way to answer them. There are a myriad of key decisions that need to be made before someone dies, but they do not need to be made alone. Who do we want with us should an emergency happen? Do we want medical assistance if it is the only thing keeping us alive? Can we ask our parents to make such an emotional decision in the throes of grief? Encouraging students to attend these conversations is the first step to demystifying death, and empowering them to be active in the facets of their life they can control.
So trust in us undergraduates to handle this matter with more strength and aplomb than previously predicted. We are in college to grow, learn, and to better understand the world around us. The Conversation Project helps us do just that, but we cannot grow if you do not offer these events on campus. Millennials can change the dialogue around death — we only need a place to start.