Oprah Winfrey recently interviewed Dr. BJ Miller on the taboo topic of death and dying. As a palliative care physician, Dr. Miller has spread the word about the importance of the topic in similar interviews and with his TED Talk that has been viewed nearly 6 million times.

Despite the prevalence of these interviews and similar best-selling books by Atul Gawande and Paul Kalanithi, the average public still struggles to adequately reflect on their mortality and prepare when the inevitability of death comes for them or their loved ones. The national discussion about the end-of-life issue is important, but developing strategies to adequately confront the issue require a compassionate approach within communities.

Kel McBride and Justin Magnuson are co-founders of the Before I Die Fest, a month-long series of events held in October.

Compassionate Louisville Healthcare Constellation co-host Justin Magnuson has been working to introduce the conversation our community should be having about death and dying by presenting events that show this is not just a concern for healthcare professionals or the elderly, but everyone. His passion for this topic is rooted in the transformative experience of being his grandmother’s health care surrogate when he was 25, and being a longtime hospice volunteer.

These experiences highlighted the struggles patients, their loved ones, and healthcare professionals face when conversations about death are too little or too late.  Justin’s observations are supported by the 2014 Institute of Medicine report, “Dying in America.” This comprehensive report identifies a healthcare system that is fragmented at the end of life, causing unneeded burden to patients, their loved ones, and healthcare professionals. The report concludes with a suggestion for community engagement that fits well with the approach Justin is taking with the Healthcare Constellation. He began hosting events in 2014, then last year founded Living Fully, and co-founded the inaugural Before I Die Fest with Kel McBride and Deborah Tuggle.

Both Living Fully and Before I Die Fest take innovative approaches to changing our cultural approach to death and dying through interdisciplinary collaboration. Living Fully seeks to create a community where advance care planning and access to end-of-life resources are the norm. This project is based on a concept on creating an end-of-life user guide that Justin presented to last year’s Open IDEO Re:Imagine the End-of-life challenge, of which he was a finalist. The Before I Die Fest, hosted last October, was a month-long series of events using art, author talks, poetry, film, games, and a daylong conference to engage the community. The inaugural festival engaged over 700 community members and encouraged the group to commit to hosting it again this fall.

TED Talks and best-selling books are a great way to build awareness, but the role of the community in changing this conversation cannot be overstated. The needs of every community are different and ensuring that all members get the care they need requires a compassionate approach. Please contact Justin at (502) 208-8593 or Justin@LivingFullyKY.com if you need more information or would like to collaborate.

The Compassionate Louisville Healthcare Constellation activates, convenes, and hosts initiatives that enable Compassion to be the driving force of the healthcare experiences in our community.