Early December brought us to the second annual End Well Symposium, one of America’s leading death and dying conferences seeking to reimagine and rebrand death. The conference hopes to generate “human-centered, interdisciplinary innovation for the end of life experience” by bringing together doctors, public health officials, palliative care specialists, designers, technologists, policymakers, and others shaping how we die in America. Running from 8 am to 7 pm, the gathering packed as much #DeathPositive content into one day as humanly possible.
The symposium got off to a rousing start (especially for the ladies) when Keynote speaker and Jane the Virgin heartthrob Justin Baldoni took the stage.
Though he’s best known for his acting, Baldoni is a making a name for himself as producer and director of death-focused films including the upcoming Five Feet Apart staring Cole Sprouse (Rivererdale‘s Jughead) and Haley Lu Richardson (Split). The movie threatens to be as tear-jerking a romance as a Fault in Our Stars and The Notebook double feature.
Baldoni kicked the day off with a momento mori moment. “I hate to tell you guys this, but you’re all gonna die” he jokingly reminded us. Baldoni’s overall message gave an uplifting start to the day: Life is more precious when we’re aware that it ends. “Everyone in the history of the world has talked about death. Everyone has asked us to prepare for this thing, but we skip over it. […] They say fear is like a bird in a cage. We spend so much time here on earth feeding the cage, and not the bird.”
He ended by sharing his belief that birth and death are essentially the same. When a baby is born to this world it dies to life in the womb. The idea that we could treat death with as much celebration and sacredness as the beginning of the life cycle got everyone buzzing with excitement.
Later, Jeremie Saunders of Sickboy Podcast took the stage sharing how living with Cystic Fibrosis has been his life’s greatest blessing in disguise. He shared his three golden rules he’s gleaned from a life with the end squarely in sight. 1) It pays to be vulnerable. 2) Life is too short for small talk. 3) Everyone has an incredible story to share. He pointed out that we are all dying — he’s just more aware of it.
Sarah Auster came to the stage and led a glorious sound bath, reminding us that nurturing the sense perceptions are vital in palliative care and how sound, in particular, can transport someone to a place of profound peace and relaxation — she had everyone entranced.
Alicia Garza, founder of the Black Lives Matter movement shared the fresh and powerful story of her mother’s battle with cancer and losing her in April. She had everyone in tears and inspired to help shift the paradigm in palliative care — to help us end well.
For more highlighs from the conference follow @endwellsf.