By Janie Swingle
Class of 2017/University of St. Thomas
Social Media Intern for the Bruce Kramer Collaborative
New research shows millennials desire information about advanced care planning, and we want it now.
“People under 40 want hospital staff to bring up end-of-life related issues and help them complete advance directives. They appreciate simple and direct answers to their questions and they prefer that clinicians hand materials to them directly.” (2016 research from the CaliforniaHealth Foundation)
As a young millennial, I’d like to respond to the notion that we’re open to talking about death. As an information-driven, media-saturated, and trend-obsessed generation, we’re accustomed to finding what we need when we need it.
I came of age in a Google-able world, and I’ve never not been able to search for the answers to my questions. With this as our life experience, it’s no wonder we millennials prefer to individualize our lives. In a way, we’re an adamantly DIY culture–we create our all-important individual senses of self based on what we find, learn, and create.
Trending? Death and Dying
When I asked one of my peers what she thought about advance care directives, she responded in a perfectly cliché millennial way: “Ooh! I just listened to a podcast on this!”
She agreed that if millennials are indeed becoming more comfortable with conversations about death, we will likely want to plan and discuss it directly. Before any of us goes to the doctor with a minor ailment, we’ve likely used WebMD, researched five different diseases, and asked our friends for input. Why would we approach advance care directives differently? I think millennials will continue to desire end- of- life-planning, but only if it’s achieved in a convenient, individualized way that allows us to feel like active members of the process.
Starting the Conversation
Perhaps it’s unfortunate, but many of us operate under the assumption “If you don’t tell me what I think I need to know, I’m just going to Google it when I get home anyway.” (I even looked up my state’s printable advance care directive paperwork while writing this, because “I was just curious.”) When it comes to end-of-life planning, I hope this steers us toward a fearless conversation about death and dying and I hope healthcare professionals continue to tune in to what millennials want. I have hope that this trend-obsessed generation will make advance care directives a trend that sticks.
Pushing Past Fear
Advance care planning isn’t a common thread of daily thought among people my age, but I see value in thinking about death early and often. I’ll echo what I said in a blog post for We Know How This Ends: Living While Dying: Our temporary nature makes an attitude of gratitude for this life even more important.
Why does any of us die the way we do? Why brain cancer for some, a car accident for others, and peaceful departure in one’s sleep for those deemed “lucky?” I simply don’t know. What I do believe is that by intentionally grappling with death now, my fear my start to soften, at least a little. Maybe by the time I reach my end, be it when I’m thirty or ninety-five, I don’t feel terrified.
Maybe I feel comfortable with an end I’ve actively expected–one for which I’ve planned. And hopefully, gratitude overwhelms and accompanies me. If anything is a hip, millennial trend worth keeping, gratitude is certainly it.