Public Media Arts Hub

A Brief But Spectacular take on living like we're dying

Transcript

Judy Woodruff: Alua Arthur is referred to as a death doula, someone who helps people at the end of life. Her story was discovered through our Brief But Spectacular open call for ideas from the public.

Founder of the organization Going With Grace, Arthur guides individuals and families, reframing the conversation to help people think about what they value most in life.

Tonight, Arthur shares her Brief But Spectacular take on living like we're dying.

Alua Arthur, Founder, Going With Grace: I really still struggle with why we're not talking about death culturally and societally, because, for me, it seems to be the most enriching conversation that we could have.

There's a great big what happens after we die that nobody has an answer to that just scares the living daylights out of most of us.

My brother-in-law Peter Saint John was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma. So I went out to New York and essentially walked Peter and my sister and my niece through the last two months of his life. I did all the supportive things around his death. And it was, I think, helpful to have somebody else to think about those things and handle them.

Peter's end of life was the way that I finally saw what the need actually is and what the role could properly look like. A death doula is somebody who does all of the non-medical care in support of the dying person and the family or the circle of support through the process.

There's a number of details that people really overlook when it comes to preparing for death, things like who you want to make your decisions for you in the event that you can't, what type of life support you want, what kind of care you want to receive at the end of your life.

You need to look holistically at our lives and think about all the information and knowledge that only we hold. That's going to be really hard for somebody that we love to handle after we die.

One interesting element of the work is, we learn to understand that we're going to be falling in love with people that are leaving all the time. And so, going in, you form these really tight relationships. You get to know people. You get to know their families. You get to know what they cared about. It's hard to not fall in love with them. We grieve with them, and we grieve for them as well.

Planning for our deaths is a really important tool and powerful way to help us understand what we value in our lives. For example, when I'm thinking about my death, I'm thinking about my relationships, who I loved, how I loved them, whether or not I was loved. I'm thinking about my work. What imprint have I made on the world? I'm thinking about my legacy. Will anybody care after I'm gone?

My hope is that, from my work, people take away how precious this life is, that they really engage with this gift that we have been given to feel and to breathe and to eat and to have sex and to dance and to cry and to feel the full gamut of emotions while we're here, because it's very, very brief time that we're here.

My name is Alua Arthur, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on living like we're dying.

Judy Woodruff: And what a great gift.

And you can find more of our Brief But Spectacular videos online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
+
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.