Guest Opinion | The Doctor is in: Living to die better

Death doesn’t have to be scary. Talking about death early can bring peace before passing.

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Megan Conroy

A bouquet of roses is seen at Beno’s Flowers and Gifts on February 12, 2019.


We are taught in medicine how to treat illness, find cures, and prevent morbidity and mortality. One lesson school forgot to teach us is that we all die. In western culture, it’s not common to talk about death, so I’m here to start the conversation with you.

I wouldn’t be surprised to hear you shy away from visiting your grandparents’ nursing home, your hesitance to attend your great aunt’s funeral, or that hospitals make you uncomfortable. The experiences you’ve gone through likely shape your own perspective on death. It’s preferred by most to not think about it, because death is not celebrated, appreciated, or prepared for, especially in the U.S.

How does this connect to you? You’re young, healthy, and have your whole life ahead of you. That’s probably true for both you and me. Probably.

As a volunteer for a local hospice organization and as a pharmacy student gaining experience in end-of-life care, I can vouch that death is more common than you see daily. While most of the patients I see are well past retirement age, and as they like to say, “have lived a good life,” there are always exceptions. These exceptions often include sudden accidents or young people with cancer. Unfortunately, these incidents often leave patients with loose ends and their family members with tough decisions to make. If you don’t talk about death before it happens, it may not go the way you want.

How can you fix that?

1. Start by writing down your thoughts

Would you want to be an organ donor? (It saves lives)

Would you want something down your throat to help you breathe?

Would you want a tube in your nose to help feed you?

How do you envision your funeral?

Do these questions make you uncomfortable? That’s okay. Like I said, it’s ingrained in our culture.

2. Talk to your family or friends

Start a conversation with those closest to you about this topic. Ask them about their wishes and tell them about what you would want at the end of your life. Tell them about how this article sparked your interest, so they have no need to worry. It may be a new and surprising topic for them, so be prepared for funny looks at first, but expect a productive discussion to follow.

3. Fill out an advance directive

This is a document that helps guide others in the healthcare decisions you might want if you are not able to make your own. You can also make this document official if you get it notarized.

If you made it this far, this is probably the most you’ve thought about death. Talking about dying can help you avoid unnecessary suffering for yourself and those closest to you to bring peace before passing. With communication and understanding, we can all have a good death.

Meredith Lumberg, PharmD Candidate, Class of 2021

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