A Chance to Talk About Living: How a NY Times Bestseller Is Changing the End-of-Life Conversation

By Danielle Pierotti, RN, PhD, CENP
Vice President, Quality and Performance Improvement
At the closing general session of the 34th VNAA Annual Meeting, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi read from When Breath Becomes Air, a book written by her late husband, Dr. Paul Kalanithi, chronicling his end-of-life journey. Seeing and hearing the voice of the man through his wife was a singular experience to connect art with life. 
The book has been featured on the New York Times bestseller list for 12 weeks—an impressive accomplishment for any book. Voices large and small, from bookstores to talk radio to academics, are all struck by the raw, unflinching bravery Dr. Kalanithi used to describe his experience of having, managing and ultimately dying from cancer.
In the United States, we have spent the past several generations trying to avoid, deny or beat death. We don't talk about it, think about it or share our experiences with it. This denial of death—the obvious and single truly universal component of being alive—has brought us to the moment in time where we are collectively beginning to search for an understanding of dying. The search leaves us seeking companionship, wisdom and guidance that Dr. Kalanithi provides.  
The wide acceptance and vast reading audience shows us how desperately we want to share and explore our commonalities. I suggest, however, that we are not really seeking to talk about death. What we really yearn for is a chance to talk about living. 
Death is the end of living. We are alive until we are not. The conversation we seek is about how we live in honesty and full awareness that our lives are limited.
As health care professionals, it is our responsibility not only to consider how we want to live, and subsequently, how we want to die, but have that conversation with the people we serve. Death is inevitable, and as difficult as that conversation is, it must be had—as well as how we want to live each day until that moment comes.
At VNAA, we are striving to move this vital conversation forward, showcasing its relevance and importance through sessions at our events, such as VNAA's Annual Meeting.

Watch the closing general session on the VNAA YouTube Channel.
Have you read the book? How are you incorporating end-of-life discussions in your work? What resources on end-of-life care would you like to see VNAA provide?


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