“When are you getting married? When will you buy a house? Isn’t it time for you to have children? It’s time to become an adult!”
They’re kidding of course– none of those things are in the cards for me just yet.
While I may not be pregnant or in escrow yet, or even close, I can relax knowing that I’ve already made some very good adult decisions. At the age of 21, I made the decision to prepare an Advanced Directive to explain my wishes in the event of a catastrophic medical event. It was an odd move for someone my age, but my friends and family weren’t terribly surprised at my unconventional decision. I became interested in the study of death and dying while getting my Sociology degree in college. During college, I took a job on the Oncology floor of a hospital. During my time there, I experienced my first patient death, and many more after that. While we could anticipate the coming death of many patients, some patients declined suddenly, leaving the patient and family unprepared when the moment arrived. As I witnessed my first “hallway conversation” with the stunned family outside of the hospital room where their loved one was being resuscitated by the Code Blue team, I saw the decisions they had to make. Reflecting later, I wondered what I would do in their shoes. In that extraordinarily emotional moment, if my loved one was in that room, I knew that there was no way that I could choose to do anything other than everything—every possible heroic intervention known to man and medical science. But I’ve also been in the room during a Code Blue and I’ve seen the work it takes to save a life. I knew I didn’t want that. I knew I never wanted my parents or boyfriend to stand in the hallway and make that choice. It wasn’t easy, but I wrote out my wishes and sent a copy to my parents and my physician. It was hard for them to see, but I know they respected my decision.
Several years, many conversations, and two revisions of my Advanced Directive later, I work in the Hospice and Palliative Care field. Every day, we help families have the conversation. It’s not an easy conversation, but it’s an extremely valuable one. I’ve found that most people just want two things when it comes to their death: they don’t want it to hurt, and they don’t want to be alone. There’s a reason that we have so many “good deaths” in hospice— when we can have that conversation, death doesn’t have to happen in unfamiliar hospital rooms or sterile ICU’s. It can happen peacefully– at home, with the patient surrounded by family, their beloved dog, and their favorite things. And we can be there to walk alongside them through the transition.
As a young woman in the hospice field who is passionate about the “good death” movement, I realize that I’m in a unique position, and with it comes a responsibility to have these tough conversations with a generation who refuses to talk about dying. My friends, family, and community know I’m a safe space to ask the questions about death and grief that scare them. My generation has questions, but it’s hard to think about your own mortality in your twenties and thirties. In this transitional stage of life where we’re busy planning the rest of our lives, I believe this is an incredibly important conversation to have. My mission is to represent this difficult subject with all the warmth, love, and knowledge that I can, and hope that it ripples through my community.