I'm a Boston-based writer and editor with a longstanding interest in end-of-life issues. During more than 25 years in journalism, I have met many people facing serious illness and written extensively about health care issues – whether about the cost of funerals or palliative care services for patients at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where I’ve worked for the past 10 years.
The idea for this blog grew out of a course at Harvard Medical School called "Living with Life-Threatening Illness" that I observed and then recounted in a Harvard Magazine article titled "Life Lessons" (Jan.-Feb. 2006 issue). The course allowed first-year students to shadow patients who were gravely ill for a semester. Toward the end of the course, students were encouraged to say goodbye to their patients and thank them for imparting lessons they could carry into their medical careers. The professors teaching the class also hoped these farewells would spur the patients to have similar exchanges with their own relatives and friends.
As the medical students struggled with these difficult and dreaded conversations, I couldn’t stop thinking about goodbyes and their power to help us heal and grow, even when someone we care about is dying. I began collecting stories from people who had a chance to say goodbye and others who didn't – but who have found ways to honor their loved ones. They are moving reminders of what it means to be human.
Debra Bradley Ruder is a writer, editor, and communications professional based at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Before joining Dana-Farber, she worked in the Harvard University and Smith College communications departments and was a daily newspaper journalist in Florida and Massachusetts. Her freelance stories have appeared in Newsweek, The Boston Globe, and Harvard Magazine. The "Life Lessons" article that inspired this goodbyes project earned a 2007 Eric W. Martin Award for excellence in medical writing (lay audience) from the American Medical Writers Association.