Death, for many of us, is a sad and scary thought. Whether it’s losing a loved one or being faced with our own mortality, pain, suffering, and fear typically flood the forefront of our minds. After all, as human beings, we are biologically wired to be afraid of the unknown, and death is the greatest unknown of all.
Unfortunately, the negative and fearful feelings that so many of us in the Western world have about death have caused us to shy away from discussing and exploring this inevitable part of life. Often, our discomfort with the idea of impermanence doesn’t allow us to face death in a way that could empower and even uplift those who are nearing the end of their life.
So many of us have come to accept that sadness, suffering, and struggle are central parts in the narrative of dying, but does it really have to be this way? Living well until the very end is, in fact, possible. That’s what the presenters at the End Well Symposium believe and plan to explore later this year in San Francisco as they delve into their theme of “Design for the End of Life Experience.”
On December 7, the brightest minds across several disciplines in the subjects relating to end-of-life care, death, and dying will join together to explore the future of these taboo topics in hopes of deepening our understanding of death and bettering the end-of-life experience for dying individuals, and their families and caregivers. Institute on Aging is proud to be a community partner in the End Well Symposium, as we wholeheartedly believe it is possible for aging adults to live well and independently until the end of their lives.
What Discussing Death Can Do
As humans, we all have an idea of how we want to live our lives, but rarely do we consider how we want to die. And even if we do, these wishes are seldom met. We go through life with our own sets of goals and values to live by, but these goals and values are often neglected at the end of our lives, especially when we are unable to make our own decisions or we are in someone else’s care.
End Well seeks to not only question and subsequently change our relationship with death, but also to create resources within our society that help us make sense of the greatest mystery of life. In an attempt to set such goals in action, discussions will take place around building community supports that help individuals prepare for death and ease the process of dying—not just for the dying individual but for caregivers, family, and practitioners. After all, the dying individual isn’t the only one affected by death and, sometimes, those who are left behind struggle greatly as well.
Empowerment will be another key topic of discussion, as it is an area in which much work is needed when it comes to dying. Speakers will explore ways to empower all who are involved in the dying process, specifically in the area of decision making, so that dying individuals are able to maintain a sense of dignity.
Of course, looking at ways to provide multidisciplinary care that honors the desires and values of the individual and provides value to them at the end of life will inform every conversation. This, after all, is the consideration that is needed in any conversation about death and dying if real progress in the field is to be made.
Just as there are many opinions and perspectives on what is needed to live a good life, there are many views on what is needed for someone to have a good death. That phrase in itself may seem like an oxymoron, but that is the mindset or attitude that the symposium’s presenters hope to change.
Making progress in the way our society perceives and deals with death and dying requires conversation and cooperation across experts in many fields and includes community partnerships, like that with Institute on Aging and other supporting organizations. This multidisciplinary approach is also reflected in the individuals who are scheduled to speak at the End Well Symposium in December.
Experienced minds from the fields of design, technology, health, policy, and activism will come together to share their unique ideas and perspectives about end-of-life care, death, and dying based on their own experiences. A few of many presenters include:
- Dr. Jessica Zitter, a renowned palliative care physician, will speak on the topic of end-of-life care and the need to change the prevailing attitudes around death and dying.
- Yoko Sen, musician and founder of Sen Sound, will discuss her work in changing the sound experience in hospitals.
- Buddhist teacher Frank Ostaseski will share his perspectives on mindfulness and compassion.
- BJ Miller, M.D., will be the keynote speaker. A Ted Talk star, Miller’s singular voice on What Matters Most at the End of Life has fueled a national conversation on the topic that is changing our very perception of what it means to live fully.
The diversity of background and perspectives will effectively address all aspects of these complex issues in hopes of providing a holistic and inclusive perspective to end-of-life care, death, and dying. For a complete overview of the presenters and sessions, visit the End Well website.
Is there hope for the future when it comes to better end-of-life experiences? The answer is undoubtedly, yes. By shining a light on death, something that has lurked in the shadows of our consciousness for far too long, examining all aspects of it, and expanding the possibilities for end-of-life care, we can truly begin to create better experiences for loved ones, patients, and ourselves. Just as everyone deserves to live with dignity, everyone deserves to die with dignity.
End Well Symposium
Thursday, December 7, 2017
8 AM – 8 PM PST
Intercontinental San Francisco Hotel
888 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
At Institute on Aging, we believe that aging adults should be empowered to make decisions about their own lives based on their individual goals and values. Our programs, services, and partnerships, like that with the End Well Symposium, aim to help older adults age independently with grace and dignity. Connect with us today to learn more.