Speaker announcement: Facing death so you can live

By TEDxSalem Storyteller, October 21, 2013

Keith Seckel

Keith Seckel

Peace, death and beauty. Does one of these words seem out of place to you?

To Keith Seckel, those three words are often one in the same.

Keith is a registered nurse and clinical manager at Willamette Valley Hospice. That means his job and that of his colleagues at the Salem nonprofit is to serve people nearing death and their families.

That may sound like a dark way to spend your days, but Keith is a glowing, calming spirit.

And at TEDxSalem next month, Keith will share with you why death is not a scary thing. In fact, by avoiding death, you avoid life, he says.

Keith grew up in Oregon City. After high school, he went into the Navy and eventually settled in the San Francisco Bay Area — where his wife, Cathy, is from — for about 20 years.

In the Navy, he ran nuclear reactors. When he left the service, he didn’t want to stay in engineering. But when his wife told him he’d make a good nurse, Keith shrugged it off.

Turns out, his wife was right (aren’t they always?). Nursing turned out to be a good pairing of his compassionate side and his love for the technical and the scientific.

And just a few weeks into nursing school, he watched a video about hospice saw on the screen his calling. In 2007, Keith and Cathy moved to Salem, and he started to work for WVH.

Unlike other types of medical care, Keith says, “Hospice is patient-driven.”

Instead of the doctors telling patients what to do, patients decide how they want to spend the end of their lives in hospice.

“You have six months to live. If you want to eat McDonald’s every day, go ahead,” Keith said.

When Keith was regularly in the field, caring for patients in their homes, he would lose a patient on his caseload every week.

I asked him several times if the constant death and loss was difficult. His reply each time was: “Sometimes.”

But when the patients are ready, and their families are ready, death can be a beautiful and peaceful thing, he said.

“And that’s OK.”