A conference about dying brings to light important lessons about living.
By Regena Frieden, former Vice President, Corporate Communications, Medecision
“How are you?” It’s a simple question that usually has a simple response: “I’m fine.” But after listening to the stories and experiences from this year’s End Well participants, I’ll never look at this question through the same lens. No one is ever OK all the time—especially when they’re grieving. And, frankly, that’s OK, too.
For the second year, I’ve had the pleasure of joining hundreds of kindred spirits in San Francisco to explore living well through the end of life. What might seem to be a depressing topic is actually an uplifting one. Each year, Shoshana Ungerleider, MD, founder and president of End Well, gathers inspirational and luminous humans for frank dialogue about what it means to transform our healthcare experiences and focus on what matters most to people. It gives me hope to see the movement catching fire as evidenced by this year’s sold-out event, which included designers, seniors, teenagers, caregivers, authors and marketing executives like me.
While notables Meghan McCain and Tim McGraw were able to use their celebrity platforms to draw attention to those suffering from serious illness and their caregivers, it was the lesser-known speakers who stood out to me. Those heroes like eighth-grade activist Rylie Kearns, who shared how it felt when her father died tragically and she had to respond to the question, “Are you OK?” from her friends. And prison hospice advocate Marvin Mutch, who served 41 years behind bars for a wrongful conviction, and now continues to work toward humanizing the criminal justice system.
The lessons didn’t stop on stage. At lunch, I had the chance to visit with an author who’s dedicating her time to educating people on how to talk about grieving. What if, she said, you simply told someone, “I’m so happy to see you. I’ve been thinking of you,” instead of asking if they are OK? By turning that simple question on its head, you can immediately make that person feel at ease.
At the end of the day, I discovered that a conference about dying taught me a lot about living, specifically about being careful with my words and ensuring that empathy is woven into our culture and all our means of expression. And designing an inclusive healthcare system that solves for the personal and scales to the universal, as described by Varo’s Chief Design Officer August de los Reyes.
I left inspired to weave these lessons into my work at Medecision, with great hope for a different kind of future. One that feels like a warm hug instead of a cold shoulder. Because that’s what matters to me.