Death, Dying, & Awkward Conversations

By Lucia Wocial, PhD, RN, FAAN

When I first started telling people about the idea of a Before I Die Festival (April 15—17), I invariably heard an incredulous, “A what???” often followed by, “Don’t you think you should change the name? That’s awkward!”

The topic is absolutely awkward. That is kind of the point. But by explaining our goal is to use what people find comfortable – art, literature, faith, and even food – to spark conversations about death, people start to warm to the idea. In fact, virtually everyone I speak to has a story to tell about death.

BID_LogoGerogioProFinalFew people are comfortable talking about death, even though all of our lives will be touched by it sooner or later. If the first conversation you have about what you want for end-of-life care is when you get bad news from your doctor, it is too late.

There are so many heartwarming stories about how people have beat cancer or survived some terrible accident. It is easy to trick ourselves into believing we don’t have to plan for death. Subconsciously we know we will die but our conscious mind does not want to go there. We believe we will be in control; we will be able to tell people what we want up until the very end.

Because I work in healthcare I know that the majority of people who are dying are too sick to tell us what they want.

If they haven’t had conversations with the important people in their lives, family is left to feel a terrific burden. The greatest gift we can give our families is to tell them exactly what matters most to us should we develop a terrible illness or learn we are dying. In my experience, there is a tremendous sense of peace when patients have shared with their friends and family what they want.

It is sad when people die. It doesn’t have to be traumatic.

Come to the festival and find out just how easy it can be to talk about death.

Lucia Wocial, PhD, RN, FAAN is a nurse ethicist with the Fairbanks Center for Medical Ethics as well as an adjunct assistant professor with the IU School of Nursing. Her work with the RESPECT Center is focused on research in palliative and end-of-life communication and training.

 

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