Sunday, May 24

‘Before I Die’ project encourages young people to talk about mortality

(Lexi Sanchez, Daily Bruin)

A series of events this week aim to encourage students to think about life and mortality and challenge the stigma surrounding death and illness.

“Before I Die” is an international art project encouraging people to reflect on their lives and live to the fullest. Several graduate students in public health are holding the campaign at UCLA in Bruin Plaza from April 25-27, with events featuring celebrities such as makeup artist Chauntal Lewis, former UCLA defensive lineman Donovan Carter and actress Tembi Locke who will share their experiences on how they grew after a struggle in their lives.

Kamila Tan and Eesha Jagtap, graduate students in public health who are organizing the campaign, collaborated with Providence Health and Services’ Institute for Human Caring and the Hear Me Now campaign to create the project as an extension of National Healthcare Decisions Day. The two organizations advocate for whole person care, which includes emotional care in standard healthcare.

Tan said one of the event’s goals is to encourage students to think about their advance directives, which are legal documents that allow patients to make their own choices about their future if they are no longer capable of making decisions due to serious illnesses or medical emergencies. The patients’ families can consult advance directives to determine what sort of care the patient would want should something happen.

“Our end goal isn’t to have you complete an advance directive, but just to lift the taboo on death and have you start the conversation,” she said.

Tan and Jagtap added they think it is important for people to learn about advance directives from a young age because few young people are aware of what decisions they would like to be made in a medical emergency.

Ira Byock, a doctor at the Institute for Human Caring and author of several books on whole person care, said he thinks high school students should begin having conversations about whole person care and advanced health care planning once they turn 18.

“My goal is to give people a broader perspective on death and dying that is rooted in reality,” he said. “I want them to feel uplifted and inspired to embrace opportunities that are uniquely meaningful and human.”

The campaign will also feature a wall in Bruin Plaza for students to complete the sentence “Before I Die…” with chalk. This will further encourage students to contemplate how to make the most of their lives starting at a young age, Byock said.

Jagtap said she hopes the campaign will grab students’ attention and help them incorporate death and dying into normal conversations.

“The three days will … drive home the messages we will be portraying throughout the campaign, which is to make dying about the living,” she said.

Byock’s talk, titled “What Mortality Can Teach Us About Living,” will take place in the Humanities Building on Friday. He said his talk aims to challenge the stigma of death in conversation by sharing stories about people who have dealt with loss and illness. Despite the bleakness of the subject, Byock said he hopes his audience will leave feeling inspired to embrace future opportunities and experiences.

“I want to challenge them to expand their imagination on what living fully looks like,” he said.

Jagtap said she hopes the events show the importance of communicating with relatives to understand their wishes before they die, and to have more open conversations with friends and family regarding future health care planning.

“Be curious, be open and as cliche as it sounds, start the conversation,” she said.

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