death

On the drive to Fairview Cemetery in the Boston neighborhood of Hyde Park, six seniors from Roxbury Latin boys' school sit in silent reflection. Mike Pojman, the school's assistant headmaster and senior adviser, says the trip is a massive contrast to the rest of their school day, and to their lives as a whole right now.

Today the teens have volunteered to be pallbearers for a man who died alone in September, and for whom no next of kin was found. He's being buried in a grave with no tombstone, in a city cemetery.

Are hospitals doing everything they should to make sure they don't make mistakes when declaring patients brain-dead? A provocative study finds that hospital policies for determining brain death are surprisingly inconsistent and that many have failed to fully implement guidelines designed to minimize errors.

Updated at 9:15 p.m. ET.

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed landmark legislation Monday, allowing terminally ill patients to obtain lethal medication to end their lives when and where they choose.

In a deeply personal note, Brown said he read opposition materials carefully, but in the end was left to reflect on what he would want in the face of his own death.

Jonathan Bartels is a nurse working in emergency care. He says witnessing death over and over again takes a toll on trauma workers — they can become numb or burned out.

But about two years ago, after Bartels and his team at the University of Virginia Medical Center, in Charlottesville, Va., tried and failed to resuscitate a patient, something happened.

"We had worked on this patient for hours, and the chaplain came in and kind of stopped everyone from leaving the room," Bartels recalls.

Penguin Random House

It's the time of year when many of us look to relax with a good book in a pleasant spot, away from the usual chatter of life, a time when Town Hall takes a month off for goodness sake, for a well-earned break and to avoid overheating its guests. It's usually not a time we're thinking about death.

Recognizing they lacked votes in a key Assembly committee, authors of legislation that would have allowed terminally ill Californians to legally end their lives pulled the bill Tuesday morning.

When Jennifer Glass goes to Sacramento on Tuesday to deliver testimony in favor of the California End-of-Life-Options Act, the trip will require some complex logistics.

Col. Kenneth Trzepkowski, chief of palliative care at Madigan Army Medical Center, unfolds one of the handmade quilts donated to the hospital for the palliative care patients.
KUOW Photo/Patricia Murphy

Caring for the nation's veterans at the end of their lives can be a complex task. Service members — especially combat veterans — can struggle with guilt, abandonment and regret.

The Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs are working to help them. At one Army hospital in Tacoma, its mission is to make those last days meaningful.

Hospital chaplain Trudy James.
Screenshot from YouTube

Ross Reynolds speaks with hospital chaplain Trudy James who for 30 years has encouraged and facilitated conversations about how people want to die, and how they want to live at the end of their lives. A new Seattle-produced documentary film called "Speaking of Dying" looks at her work.

Alice Beaty watches her son Adam work on speech exercises at their home in Bellingham, Wash., on March 27, 2015. Adam is recovering from a severe car accident. It was initially unclear if he would survive.
KUOW Photo/Mike Kane

Palliative care has often been associated with elderly people who are dying.

Not anymore. Today, palliative care is more than that. It means supporting patients and their families, no matter their age. And it doesn’t mean that death is imminent.

Mark and Alice Beaty learned this first hand. A year and a half ago, they received a phone call that every parent dreads. Their son Adam had been in a rollover car accident on Interstate 5. He was 27 years old.

Greta Austin's family faced the issues surround end-of-life care when her father, George Austin, was diagnosed with cancer. He is pictured here with his wife, Shirley, On Easter Day, 2013.
Courtesy of Greta Austin

Greta Austin has spent a lot of time in medical waiting rooms.

Two years ago last fall, her father came to Seattle from Wisconsin for treatment, and she sat with him at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

Vital Talk: Resources And Other Stories

Apr 15, 2015
Flickr Photo/Piermario (CC-BY-NC-ND)

We hope that our series "Vital Talk: Between Life And Death" inspires important conversations with your loved ones. Included below are additional stories from the KUOW archives as well as resources our reporters found helpful while working on this series.

Resources For Planning End Of Life

Let's Talk About Death

Dec 23, 2014

Holidays are the time when families and friends gather together for food and conversation, but some of the most important topics like end-of-life care are the most difficult to discuss.

A recent study shows that 90 percent of Americans say it’s important to talk about end-of-life care, but only 30 percent actually do.

Amber Larkins and Terry Jaeger of the Pierce County Medical Examiner's office hold up vessels containing unclaimed cremated remains.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

When the nameless die, they often end up in a potter’s field, a common grave. In Pierce County, unclaimed remains or bodies get cremated and placed up on a shelf in the medical examiner’s office. 

But that shelf has gotten crowded lately. So medical examiner Thomas Clark decided to give those unclaimed ashes a respectable burial – at sea.

This story is in no way an endorsement of suicide. It's a description of one woman's choice and what came of it.

Five years ago, after doctors told her that she had Alzheimer's disease that would eventually steal her ability to read, write and recognize people, Sandy Bem decided to kill herself.

Sandy was 65 years old, an unsentimental woman and strong willed. For her, a life without books and the ability to recognize the people she loved wasn't a life she wanted.

Pages