For our final process reflection, I’d like to touch on something we only started talking about in the final few weeks of class. Right before Thanksgiving, professor Guseva challenged us to have our own version of the Conversation Project with our families. Honestly, I didn’t think I would actually do it, but the night before thanksgiving it happened and suddenly I understood something I had never quite understood before. My Mom, Dad, sister and I were lounging in my parents’ room after a big dinner with lots of elderly family members and I spontaneously decided to tell them that we had been learning about a movement that was encouraging people to talk with their families about the level of care each member would want in the even that the other members had to make a decision about the life of their loved one.
The attitude that we have around death, and death denying itself is so powerful that my sister, who received a masters in public health last year, tried shut it down before anyone could even answer. And then my Dad responded that he wouldn’t want us to go to extreme measures to resuscitate him if it would mean his quality of life would be poor. To that, my Mom, half kidding, said “Well we’ll see about that…I’ll make the decision if I think otherwise.”
And then I realized that in my incredibly tight-knit, but practical, well-educated family, we love each other too much to have this conversation, or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. Death denying goes beyond the doctor-patient setting or the patient-self dynamic; we try to protect our loved ones so much that we’re unwilling to even consider the possibility of death. From a more cynical point of view, it’s the only guarantee we have in this life and yet we cannot accept it even when we know we need to talk about it. This moment really made me realize that if my own family can’t handle this, we need to reconstruct the cultural boundary around death, and we need to do so immediately.