CHICAGO — Journalist Randi Belisomo wants you to think about what will happen when you die.
The WGN-TV reporter partnered with a Northwestern Medicine doctor to create Life Matters Media, a website that aims to help people make the terrifying concept of death a part of normal, everyday discussion.
Since its launch in June, the website has tackled the taboo subject in sometimes surprising ways, like with the addition of a relationships and intimacy columnist who has started taking on topics like sex and how to maintain privacy with loved ones at the hospital.
Belisomo, 31, said the idea arose several months after she dealt with the death of her husband, CLTV journalist Carlos Hernandez Gomez, who died of colon cancer in January 2010 at age 36.
When he was diagnosed, Belisomo thought she and her husband had a long road of treatment ahead of them. Instead, his death came just a year later after he experienced a blood clot.
"It took us all by surprise," Belisomo said. "... I found myself in an intensive care unit having to decide when was the appropriate time to remove life support."
Though Belisomo said she and her husband's family were confident they'd made the right decision, Belisomo said she wished she and Hernandez had taken the time to discuss exactly what he would have wanted. She said she also wondered why they didn't have in-depth discussions about death with his doctor, Northwestern Memorial Hospital oncologist Mary Mulcahy.
Mulcahy said doctors often have trouble discussing death with patients and their families, partly because everyone wants to focus on survival rather than what happens when options run out.
"People go to doctors to be fixed," Mulcahy said. "They're in a fighting mode, and so it's easy to get carried away with that. ... It's harder to say, 'We can't do it.'"
So Mulcahy and Belisomo decided they'd create a resource to help others who will eventually have to face similarly painful decisions, one that they hope empowers people to take their lives — and deaths — into their own hands.
The Life Matters Media website features videos of various patients, doctors and families who share their stories and help "put a face," as Belisomo said, to the process of dealing with tough life decisions. The site also features advice from experts, definitions of key terms and links to other online resources.
Talking about death should be part of everyday discussion, Belisomo said, because "you won't be having to have these difficult conversations in really difficult times."
Considerations such as designating the power of attorney, or who will make choices for you if you are unconscious or cannot otherwise make decisions for yourself, are ones people should start thinking about as young as 18, Mulcahy said.
By planning ahead, "they actually relieve their loved ones of the burden of having to guess at these crucial times," Mulcahy said.
The pair have also attended community health events to promote the site, and they plan on continuing to host and attend events that educate people on how to plan for death.
"If there was anything positive that came out of this experience, it was the chance for me to identify that this is a crisis very early in my life," Belisomo said. "And if there is something I can do as a communicator or a journalist to ease this for other people, let me do it."