Just today, I received a blog post, “5 Pieces of Essential Life Advice from Seniors,” authored by Kate Torgovnick May, a writer at TED.com. All five pieces of advice were interesting, but the one that caught my attention was number three: Draw inspiration from all the people you meet. In it, May quotes Bill Janz, a world-traveling journalist who credits the spirit of 10-year-old Eddy, an amputee who lost his leg to cancer, as the person who, among all those he’d encountered throughout his career, impacted him the most.
It seemed serendipitous that I was just about to publish another post about the people I met at the 2017 Planetree Conference in October. This is post number three on that topic, and is also about my most memorable person.
Beautiful, statuesque, almost-30-year-old Jessica Hanson is unforgettable. She broke my heart with her story and then re-ignited my belief that finding a new perspective in the wake of tragedy can help us heal, cause us to find new purpose and catalyze personal growth.
I first saw her as she and the woman by her side approached my table, not from the aisle, but straight from the lobby through the door directly across from my booth. It seemed they intentionally targeted me. Later, I realized it was the image of the baby’s foot on my book cover that attracted her.
Jessica said she had not heard my presentation that morning, so I offered an abbreviated explanation of my book’s story, how I donated the proceeds from it to special needs kids, and then explained more about the title of my talk.
When I finished, I asked her to tell me about herself. I learned that she was an operating room trauma nurse—and a mom. The woman with her was her friend Tiffany. Both were from Flagstaff, Arizona.
Jessica also offered that she, too, would be doing a live podcasted interview with Matt Cavallo, and would be presenting at a breakout session later that day. When I asked her to tell me about her topic, I was not prepared for what came next.
“Last year, my husband ran over our 22-month old son in our backyard and killed him,” she said. The volume of my gasp even startled me.
In March of 2016 at around 9:00a.m., Jessica was at home, asleep in her upstairs bedroom. She was recovering from the emergency tonsillectomy she had undergone the night before when she was awakened by her husband’s bloodcurdling screams. Something awful had happened. Outside in the backyard, she discovered he had run over their 22-month old son’s face. Little Mason Hanson died that day in the trauma bay of the hospital wrapped in Jessica’s loving arms. How did she survive the pain, rage, anger and suffering of that awful day and the days after? One cannot begin to imagine.
Jessica says what allowed her to go on was what she did during the time Mason lay dying, and in the time just after. She said she did everything she could to make her last moments with him a beautiful experience. Those memories and others of his brief and joyous 660-day life are what she draws upon to get through each new day.
From the pain, love and passion of her experience, Jessica created Project 660, an educational program that teaches hospital staff how to deal with death more compassionately. The program fills a gap she realized was missing in her own nursing education: helping hospital staff and patients’ families plan, if possible, to deal more sensitively with the death experience. “Healthcare needs to learn how to do death better,” she said.
Now, as a speaker and educator, she helps healthcare professionals to understand how to more compassionately “Orchestrate Death.” That’s what Jessica does in addition to being a Registered Nurse, being a mom to Mason’s older siblings Megan and Mikey, being a yoga teacher and living life to the fullest in memory of Mason. “I don’t know how she does it,” said Tiffany.
For me, Jessica’s courage and commitment are awe-inspiring. You can listen to her tell her story to Matt Cavallo of The Patient Activation Network here: http://patientactivationnetwork.com/orchestrating-death-with-jessica-hanson-rn/.
When we talked at the conference, Jessica told me she needed to create marketing materials to promote Project 660. I am happy to say that she and I have stayed connected and I am helping her create a website about the project. Stay tuned!