In Sunday’s New York Times (February 19, 2017) a wonderful article quietly graced the bottom halves of pages 6 and 7.
First, Sex Ed. Then Death Ed.
The title drew me immediately, and the contents didn’t disappoint. The author is a doctor who practices critical and palliative care in a California hospital, and she is drawing a parallel between two relatively taboo subjects. Sex and Death. We aren’t taught to discuss or even research sexual safety, alternatives, procedure, S.T.D.’s. That isn’t cool. And we assuredly are not taught to think about, never mind discuss, end-of-life wishes. That is morbid. We prefer to believe, beyond hope and reason, that we will not be the ones to ever die.
How ignorantly indulgent and self delusional can we remain?
“The sooner we start talking about how we die, the better.” Dr. Jessica Zitter writes. She means having conversations not only with her dying patients, often too late, but with high school teenagers. This allows students to explore the future deaths of relatives and/or friends, have discussions about death, loss, cancer, dementia, and see films about unrealistic rescues, respirators, and restraints.
After which they play a game called “Go Wish”. Students are asked to identify their most important preferences and values. There are talks about strategies that can be used to communicate these preferences to health care teams or family.
How much longer will we remain illiterate? Should we care about another’s dying wishes or bother to learn how to communicate with them?
It is never easy to usher in conversation on topics that society would rather not discuss. Yet, without those uncomfortable and difficult conversations, how will we ever reach a time when death is treated consciously, humanely, and lovingly?
I, for one, open up the discussion.