Cindie Smith, left, and Sylvia Estey are teaming up once again to launch a local ‘Before I Die’ project. They have erected a board outside the Truro Farmers’ Market for members of the public to finish the sentence, ‘Before I die I want to______.” The idea is to get the community talking about what makes life worth living. Submitted photo

TRURO – It’s been five years since Sylvia Estey and Cindie Smith started 100 Women Who Care Truro, a project that has raised nearly $200,000 for local non-profit organizations to date.

They both stepped back from that venture years ago, and are both now ready to start another adventure together. This time, they have chosen something that has great personal meaning as well as benefit for the community.

Inspired by Candy Chang, an innovator in public participation experiments, their latest project titled ‘Before I Die’ aims to engage the community in a conversation about what makes life worth living. What are our dreams and aspirations?

To facilitate this conversation, they have constructed a giant blackboard on the lawn of the Truro Farmers’ Market at the corner of Prince and Young streets where they are asking the public to finish the sentence, “Before I die I want to ___________.” The public participation starts May 4, and anyone can pick up a piece of chalk and share what is important to them whether it is a career goal, mending a relationship, a personal achievement, or something funny to give everyone a laugh.

But there is a deeper point to all of this. 

Both women believe that as a society, people talk comfortably about every milestone in their lives except death.

Twenty-five years ago, Smith’s daughter, Maggie, died just before her fifth birthday. 

“I knew Maggie would die soon and I needed to talk about it,” Smith said in a press release. “But I was afraid that I would be judged by raising the issue – that my need to talk about Maggie’s coming death would indicate that I had given up or that I didn’t want to parent a dying child any more. At that time, there was no hospice society, no palliative care unit at hospital, no safe place in which I could express my fears and wishes.”

More recently, Estey’s life took an unexpected and tragic turn when her husband died of colon cancer.

“Although he knew his diagnosis was terminal, Dave, like many others, thought he had more time to discuss, to plan, to settle important matters,” said Smith. “Although there was open dialogue about death with Dave, the conversation about his end-of-life was not completed and as a result some of their last precious hours were spent making crucial medical decisions at a highly emotional time.”

What better way to begin conversations about end-of-life than to talk about what makes life worth living? Estey and Smith agree in that these discussions must be normalized.
During the past year, the Colchester East Hants Hospice Society has hosted a Death Café, Caregivers Nova Scotia has held several Advance Care Planning workshops, and more recently First United Church has hosted the event “A Date with Death” and all have been well attended.  This clearly demonstrates that there is an appetite to talk about end-of-life in our community.
The Before I Die project is attempting to further those efforts. Smith and Estey have also created a Facebook page, Before I Die Colchester, that will help initiate these discussions using a variety of resources from a brief meme, to thought-provoking articles, to toolkits for planning personal and medical care at end-of-life.

Other nation-wide campaigns have had success when encouraging communication about end-of-life and state that when people talk with their loved ones and document their wishes well in advance of a medical crisis, they are more likely to have:

  • higher rates of satisfaction with health care
  • fewer medical interventions that will not increase the quality or length of life
  • families who are better prepared for the death of a loved one
  • their loved one experience a better quality of life and death
  • significant savings to the health care system.

Smith says, “As an individual and within the context of my work I have seen families shattered by unmet expectations during the death of a loved one. It is our hope that the Before I Die project will help members of our community make space in their lives for these essential discussions.”