I never really thought of my own death, how I would die, what it would be like, and how people would remember me. I dont think its a common thought for most 22 year olds. Like the majority of society, I avoided the thought of death – perhaps because of my youth and the invincibility many youth feel. The thought that I woul eventually die seemed foggy, a far-off place in the future. Perhaps this idea is from the overall medical ideology of western society that there is always a cure or medical procedures that will save and preserve life.
Almost three years ago, a friend was diagnosed with cancer. Once a healthy 20-year old who loved to dance, she was now battling this thing that was assaulting her body and attempting to claim her life. She fought like a champ and actually beat it into remission. A few months later, the cancer was back and no longer responding to treatments and she passed away this past fall. For me and other friends, this was a shock. It never crossed my mind that this was a potential outcome.
While grieving the loss of my friend, I had an overwhelming feeling of absolute terror and anxiety. For many of us, including myself, it was the realization that there is no timeline, there is no age limit to sickness or death. She didnt see her 22nd birthday, she didnt get to graduate from college or university, and she didnt get to buy her first car, or start a career. Arent those all milestones that are anticipated and expected prior to death? The realization that these milestones could be taken from me in an instant was terrifying, Death happens when your older, right? Wrong. It is a natural part of life and unavoidable for all of us.
Death and dying has become a taboo topic in Western society. Hidden away in sterile hospitals, death for younger people seems like a far-way topic, something that wont happen until far into the future. But thats not the way it happens.
One of the ways I feel I have been able to confront the topic was to attempt to have control of this part of my life, specifically through Advance Care Planning. If everyone dies, why not plan for it? Why not talk about it? Death is natural, and it will happen to you. Make sure your voice is heard.
Belinda Hannan is a social work student at Lakehead University in Orillia, Ontario.