The movement to bring the subject of mortality into mainstream conversation has been on-going for at least 10 years in the U.S. As a result, the number of gatherings has increased.
The End Well Symposium, now in its third year and soon to be fourth, is a part of this movement.
The 2019 production in early December featured a star-studded kick-off with ABC-TV‘s The View co-host Meghan McCain sharing candidly and compellingly about the death of her father Senator John McCain. She feels everyone should have a discussion about this subject with loved ones, learn their wishes, and do the best one can to prepare.
Country singer Tim McGraw talked about the experience of attending his dying father. As a result, he joined the Board of Directors of Narus Health, a Nashville-based palliative care provider, “to ensure broad access to high-quality care during times of serious illness and through the end of life.”
There were 26 other speakers including author/facilitator/interviewer and social change maker Courtney Martin whose high energy and thoughtful introductions kept the day-long gathering proceed smoothly.
Shoshana Ungerleider, MD and philanthropist, whose family foundation is behind the End Well Project, graciously and discreetly hosted as well. She succeeded with her goal of introducing a cross-disciplinary line-up that shared her philosophy – death and dying is not only a medical issue but most importantly, a human issue.
Each speaker was unique and dynamic in his or her own way, contributing to the dialogue about creating quality of life for patients at any phase of illness in a variety of settings.
Public and private sector speakers were physician authors, technologists, caregivers, patients, one attorney/end-of-life doula/ordained minister Alua Arthur, spiritual leaders, artists, innovators.
Among the younger voices sharing stories this year were palliative care physician, author, USC Medical School professor Sunita Puri who gave a heartfelt talk based on her book That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the 11th Hour mentioning influences of family health, Hindu poetry, and the importance of word choice and words as tools . Yoko Sen spoke lovingly and compassionately about the importance of healing sounds at the end-of-life. Sen was a speaker last year as well. She is a musician, sound alchemist, and TEDMED speaker.
It was moving to watch Harvard-educated August de los Reyes, Chief Design Officer for Varo, roll onto the stage in his wheel chair to talk about his mission to improve the financial health of Americans through better services and mobile-centric design that include the disabled. De los Reyes was formerly at Xbox, Microsoft and Pinterest. His paralysis is a result of a hospital mistake. His positive energy despite his health condition is most inspiring.
Among the older adults were fine and funny writer Sally Tisdale, RN (Advice for Future Corpses and Those Who Love Them plus other noteworthy books and essays) whose talk was educational and supportive – tender care for dementia patients at end-of-life.
Jonathan Bartels, a UVA trauma nurse and palliative care liaison, spoke about how he created The Pause – silence in acute care settings, intensive care units, and emergency rooms to honor any person who has just died. His empathetic vision has been adopted across the globe and is now taught as a part of compassionate care education for healthcare workers. See https://thepause.me/2015/10/01/about-the-medical-pause/
Marvin Mutch, son of a Holocaust survivor and a Baptist minister who spent 41 years in prison, spoke about inter-generational trauma and his work with end-of-life at San Quentin with the Human Prison Project.
Much admired San Francisco palliative care and hospice physician at UCSF, and former Executive Director of Zen Hospice BJ Miller (also with a compelling health history) spoke about his desire for more human-centered care for the ill and the dying. His newly released book, co-written with Shoshana Berger is A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death. See http://www.centerfordyingandliving.org for his mission statement.
The piece de la resistance was the last part of the program, an interview with revered Buddhist teacher and hospice worker Frank Ostaseski, author of the popular book The Five Invitations: What Death Can Teach Us about Living. After a life-time at the bedside of others, he spoke soulfully about the paradox of vulnerability – how he was being cared for following a stroke a few months ago.
For two years, the End Well Conference in San Francisco, CA required a $600 entrance fee for the day. This year founder Ungerleider and her board kindly expanded the conference to a live on-line all-day event for $25. This was a gift for those who could not attend because of commitments they have, or because leaving one’s city or country to attend requires extra resources and time.
See this link for bios to the presenters:
See this link for videos of some of the TED-style talks:
Note: The Ungerleider Foundation financed the production of two fine documentaries about the end-of-life experience, End Game and Extremis, both available on Netflix.
Note no. 2:
There are many other such conferences and symposiums throughout the world, primarily in Australia and the UK, and others as far flung as India and Singapore. I intend to list some of the 2020 gatherings in another blog for those who are interested.
Also notable are small volunteer-driven gatherings of Death Cafes (55 countries), Death over Dinners, Conversation Project get-togethers, faith-based meetings, senior center events, and more on a continuing basis, usually monthly.
Wellness Shepherd blog author Wendy Jane Carrel, with 20 years + of hands-on senior care and palliative care experience, is currently involved with a humanitarian mission in Guadalajara, Mexico, www.JuntosContraelDolor.com, the only 24/4 palliative care hospital with outreach to 100 families at home. She is also collaborating with www.HolaHospice.org , currently creating a senior home and hospice in the state of Michoacan, Mexico.