Letter from The Founder

Mindy Relyea

When I was 16 years old, my beloved brother, two years older than me, died in a car accident. Little did I know that this incident would lead me down a path that would create my future career. Many years later, in 2011, my dear stepmom died after years of suffering with osteoarthritis. I watched her bravely endure excruciating pain day after day, often alone and filled with shame. After her untimely death, I kept returning to this thought: there must be a better way to die. Why should  people suffer severely, without proper care and support? 

Like others, I found my inspiration in a TEDtalk given by BJ Miller, MD. He spoke about palliative care and end of life in a way I had never heard before. His words felt logical and so reasonable to me, as if to fill a great need in a simply profound way. He spoke of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, an exceptional place that offered training for Mindful Caregiving. I attended this training and went on to become a Certified End of Life Doula. Sitting with those who are facing their last days, weeks, and months feels natural and comforting for me. Along the way, I’ve met many others who feel called to this work  to hold space, to guide, and offer respite for family caregivers. Palliative care truly is simply human care. 

As I reflected on the gifts of bringing compassion to end of life situations, I often felt astounded that more people did not know about the services and support available. Hospice care alone is a life changing service that many don’t engage in because of misunderstood concepts. Talking about death has been a long held taboo in our communities. This symposium, Ever Presence, has been created to gently and consistently turn that cultural norm around. We have created a safe space, lead by experts, to discuss all areas of end of life, in an effort to enrich our lives. We believe fully that by bringing the lessons that death gives us into our daily lives, we will be transformed, enlightened and more prepared to face our own end of life.  In the words of Frank Osteseski, founder of the Zen Hospice Project, “Death is not waiting for us at the end of a long road. Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment. She helps us discover what matters most.” 

Thank you for joining our conversation,