Hello, my name is Joanna but I like to go by Joey. The picture above is from my virtual commencement ceremony. I graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma in May 2020, I earned a B.A. in philosophy and a minor in grief, death, and dying. Graduating in the height of a global pandemic while struggling with mental illness was a nightmare come true for myself and so many of my peers. I was bitter and angry at my university for many reasons and I did not feel that my virtual commencement really honored what I had accomplished. But it was more than just not being able to walk at graduation, I was scared of my future. I had chosen to pursue a liberal arts degree and felt that I had not planned better for how to use it. So I told myself this was the perfect time for a break.
I bounced between the dorms, a friend’s home, and then finally a duplex during the first few months of the pandemic. I was unemployed and newly released from the shackles of academia. By April of 2020, I was able to find a job at a liquor store in my town. I honestly loved that job. I loved my customers, I loved learning about alcohol and trying new things. It was the perfect place for me to slow down and reevaluate my next steps. My mind was constantly ping ponging back and forth between applying for grad school ASAP and waiting for as long as I damn well pleased. My parents both have many advanced degrees and I felt like I owed it to them to go to grad school. As the summer came along, I endured traumas that I never expected to endure, something I may go into more detail about in a later blog post. I was left even more lost and afraid. I felt rooted in my environment with no way out so I began the process of applying to grad school. I never finished my application. I would have done amazing things in the program I was applying for, but I just was not ready. As time went on, my surroundings became worse. The home I was living in became unsafe. I started couch surfing in November 2020, something that is hard to do during a pandemic. My mother who had been living in Colorado came up with a plan to move me to her town just four days before Christmas. I jumped on the opportunity.
The only piece of furniture I had was my bed, we loaded it into my mom’s pick up truck and held it down with bungie cords and lots of prayers. My jeep was filled to the brim with all of my clothes, decorations, and silly little objects. It took us two days in total to arrive home. We drove 14 hours in total. Before I had arrived, I was hired on at CVS to help assist with Covid vaccine clinics. I had no intention of just sitting around and doing nothing. I was living with my grandfather for a bit to get on my feet. Living with an 86 year old man when you are 22 is not necessarily a recipe for success. We made it work but I struggled to find a solid daily routine. My grandfather got me a membership at the recreational center in his town and one day I went there for a swim. It was probably 10 in the morning and I was the only person their under the age of 50. I came across these two wonderful women who had been best friends for decades. I told them a little bit of my story and why I had moved out there. One of them was fascinated with my educational background in grief, death, and dying. I told her that I wanted to work for hospice but I didn’t know how I could. I’m not a social worker or a nurse so what could I do for a hospice facility? The woman told me to find her on Facebook, and I did. She then sent me information on a growing hospice facility in the area. I went ahead and emailed the guy she referred me to, why not.
My road to hospice was an unsure one at first. I corresponded with this guy from hospice for a little bit, sent him my resume and everything, and then heard nothing for about a month. No big deal, I just kept chugging along at CVS, I knew working in hospice would be a long shot. I was just about to apply for a local CNA program when I got an email back from the person I had spoken to a month ago. He asked me to come in and have a chat with him. I came in and told him that I would get my CNA classes done if that was what I needed to do, but he had a different idea. He asked if I would be interested in doing things like community outreach, helping build their name recognition and help get more referrals. He needed someone to show the surrounding community that they had options when it comes to end of life matters. I was awestruck, this was perfect for me. I told him that I would love that. He consulted with his team and then a couple weeks later I started my career as a Director of Business Development. How cool is that title?
I went from thinking I had no future in the summer of 2020 to being an administrator in a hospice facility. And that is where our story begins. In my short time at this job, I have observed so much about our ideas on death and dying. I had learned about this all in a classroom setting, but now I was in people’s homes, admitting them to hospice and helping their loved ones understand what that meant. And I want to help you all understand what it all means. Death, aging, death culture, the American taboos surrounding death, coping. I want to share my thoughts on these topics with you all. I hope you take this journey with me and I hope we all become more content and comfortable in life through it.
I mean. We are all going to die someday.