For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story, and in stories, endings matter.
The pandemic has brought many changes and challenges. It’s caused us to make choices we wouldn’t have made otherwise. It’s brought people closer or, through the death of someone who mattered most, forever taken them apart. One constant that’s been at the forefront during this time is… uncertainty. We’ve witnessed death on a daily basis. Its close proximity has blanketed the earth with a deep sense of loss, anxiety, and fear. Death has become a relentless companion, a nightly news tally, a morning count, and a cruel unceasing mourning. A metric whose toll continues to soar.
Stories of heartbreak now circle the globe at a nonstop pace. But amid the sorrow, accounts of heroism have begun to surface. As a people, we’ve come together to show the common good of humanity. Heartfelt tales weave threads of kindness, empathy, and compassion that bring us closer together. The relentless focus of scientists working diligently to bring us a life-saving vaccine, in record time, has been astonishing, and encouraging.
Blogs, talk shows, even news media have begun noticing the cultural shift.
For most people death has never been so close, so immediate, so palpable. Its close proximity has mandated conversations that would never have been spoken before. Conversations about how we view and live our lives, what’s important to us, and how we prioritize our to-do list have become easier, and more urgent. Blogs, talk shows, even news media have begun noticing the cultural shift. Recognizing things that were previously ‘must-do’ or ‘got-to-have’ are being dropped. Talk of loved ones, chosen family, those who matter most, and ‘our pod’ is now part of our vocabulary. A sea of change has been ushered into our lives unforeseen, unwelcome, yet in our midst. Well-laid plans have been dashed: birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, graduations, travel, new careers, gatherings of all kinds, all brushed aside, drowned in the pandemic’s wake.
Within weeks of the pandemic, we became aware of our utter lack of preparation for death. The taboo topic began having a place in everyday conversations. The Conversation Project (TCP) is helping people share their wishes for care through the end of life. They know how important it is that your chosen family knows ‘what matters to you’, not ‘what’s the matter with you’. Within their robust website, you’ll find tools that tackle a variety of offerings from the basics of how to start a conversation with those who matter most about death, to the explanation of a health care proxy (otherwise known as a health care agent, or power of attorney for health care) and how to select one.
Essential items on how we want to spend our weeks, days, and hours before we leave this earth have become common topics of conversation. Who we want with us when we die and who we don’t, where we want to die — home or a care facility, what kind of a setting will it be — a party or a silent slipping away from this world, and so many other details never before discussed.
Many things have come to light during this dark time. Our ability to acknowledge our own mortality and that of those who matter most has appeared front and center. To be able to speak openly about how we want to live the last days of our lives, as well as the choices we do, or do not want for health care. These other decisions to help those we leave behind can be a silver lining in this deeply tragic time.
Have you had a conversation with those who matter most? If no, you’re not alone. According to TCP’s 2018 survey, 92% of people think it’s important to talk about their end-of-life wishes, yet only 32% have done so. Speaking about death causes people discomfort. It can be frightening. However, there’s good news. Talking about death doesn’t cause dying and can, in fact, bring you closer to those who matter most.
Now you know that it’s a good idea, so what’s next? A great starting place is to download and read the free resource, Your Conversation Starter Guide, from TCP. It will take you through the process step by step:
Step 1) Think About What Matters to You
Step 2) Plan Your Talk
Step 3) Start Talking
Step 4) Keep Talking
With this in hand, you can take your time, and figure out what will work best for you and those who matter most. The tool helps you sort out your own feelings in and around death, as well as what you may or may not want as you near the end of your life. It’s important to remember that the conversation isn’t set in stone. It can be changed at any time, and it’s something to review on a regular basis as things change.
My fiercely independent Mom, now 90, feels much different than she did even 5 years ago, which is why revisiting the talk is essential to us. She now tells me she’s lived a full life and doesn’t want to be on life support or have CPR performed if her heart stops. I’ve had the privilege to enjoy rich conversations with her about what she wants and doesn’t want, as well as who she’d like with her during her last days. There’s a party she’d like us to have in her honor. It should be a good Irish Wake honoring a life well lived! I’m grateful for the conversations Mom and I have openly shared without fear or sorrow.
Our talks have brought us closer together, given me insights into her life, and made me grateful to have had these moments that I’ll forever cherish.
Another recommendation is to write your own obituary. This may seem morbid, but it can be an exercise well worth your time. Viewing what you want to be remembered for, on paper, is a good way to create an action plan now to make those things happen. After all, isn’t a life lived to its best and fullest what we all hope for? To leave the campsite a little cleaner than when we arrived? To show up for others, and to leave a legacy of kindness, compassion, and gratitude? What could be better than to have those left behind say that you were one of the most decent human beings they ever knew? Now that’s a life well-lived. Plan for it. Make it your reality, you’re worth it.