The concept of death was always something that I refused to let myself think about. It has never been considered taboo in my household or within my religion but the idea of living in a world without someone close to me always scared me. When I was younger, death was never something that affected me directly. Even when family members died, I never experienced the same emotion that I saw my parents go through because I didn’t have that connection with the deceased in the same way that they did. It wasn’t until I experienced the death of a friend that I begin to let myself think about what it means to die. Until that moment, I had created so much distance between death and myself, both mentally and physically, but to experience it in such a personal way forced me to see how little control I have. I also began to allow myself to entertain the idea of death. In doing so, I began to ask questions, which initially mimicked the confusion I felt over my friend’s death but slowly transitioned into an attempt at developing a deeper understanding of this part of life.
While I continued to ask and attempt to answer my own questions, I was never truly satisfied with my responses. It was this disappointment that fueled my interest in the Hospice Volunteer Program through the VA Hospital in Pittsburgh. I applied in the hopes that I would be able to obtain more concrete answers and explanations regarding my issues surrounding death. It was through the monthly meetings that I was finally able to get some clarity. One discussion that stands out the most is one in which we were given an activity where we had to pick three words that we associated the most with death from a list. As simple as this was, it opened up a much broader perspective of death for me as it gave me an outlet by which I could compartmentalize my feelings. My questions went from sporadic and disorganized to more lucid and structured in the span of ten minutes. Through this change, I was able to spark a much more cohesive and comprehensive discussion regarding how death makes me feel. I learned that my outlook on death is one that is optimistic and I’ve realized that, despite my rocky relationship with death, I have come to peace with the concept. I believe this will help me not only in my future plans as a hospice volunteer but also as I further my studies in hopes of becoming a doctor.
This program has given me an insight into another side of medicine that I did not expect exposure to as an undergraduate student. I believe that by being thrown into the reality of death at such an early stage, all of the undergraduate volunteers involved with the program will have a much easier time adapting to this in medical school. In turn, we will be given the benefit of having more time to perfect our skills to provide patients with the best possible care.