For the past couple of months, San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area have been reimagining end of life.

By Sally Gelardin

For the past couple of months, San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area have been reimagining end of life. 

Over 10,000 participants came together April 16-22 to explore death, celebrate life, and launch this important public discourse. Did your senior housing organization participate? 

Drawing on the arts, spirituality, healthcare, and design, “Let’s Reimagine End of Life” was spearheaded by Brad Wolfe, Executive Director and Founder. The Reimagine team guided 150 presenters to create a weeklong series of events that broke down taboos and brought diverse communities together in wonder, preparation, and remembrance. Throughout the Bay Area, there were 175 events, 33 performances, 32 workshops, 25 art experiences, 23 reflections, 6 comedies, and 1 universal topic. We reimagined, we cried, we laughed, we empathized, we played, we danced, we mourned, we completed or didn’t complete our Advance Directives or POLST.

Now it’s back to everyday humdrum life in this world.

Or is it?

Aches and pains don’t go away.  Neither do politics, emotions, curiosity, family, work, retirement, or refirement. The conversation continues. We all know we will die at some point, and most of us have experienced death of loved ones. It’s definitely a subject worth exploring and not easy to digest.

Reimagine was initially prototyped in 2016, inspired by OpenIDEO’s End of Life Challenge, as part of an effort to investigate the intersection of art, community, and end of life. In San Francisco, Reimagine partnered with the San Francisco Palliative Care Work Group, sponsored by the City and County of San Francisco via the Department of Aging & Adult Services. The Work Group is dedicated to ensuring all San Franciscans facing serious illness have access to high-quality care that is consistent with their wishes and values through research, education, outreach, and influencing policy. Membership is made up of a diverse group of stakeholders who represent providers, health plans, health systems, community-based organization, faith-based organizations, and professional associations.

As a presenter at the Reimagine series of events, I found the entire experience over the past two months enlightening. I experienced both creative and practical approaches to end of life. I also learned about marketing from 20-something pros and how to share an event through social networking and word of mouth, collaborating with others, and personal storytelling and story listening. 

Elder and assisted living communities will have a chance to participate in Let’s Reimagine in New York this coming October 27 – November 3. There’s a good chance we shall also have an opportunity to Reimagine End of Life again next year in San Francisco.

I participated in the San Francisco Reimagine event as a tribute to my granddaughter, who left this world shortly before her fifth birthday. We don’t know when and where the grim reaper will call. Let’s start now to make the best of every day and every moment, for others and for ourselves.