Dying

Talking About Death Won't Kill You: The 100% Certainty Project

"Most of us are ill-prepared to face what lies ahead. In a death-denying society, how do we ready ourselves for our human fate? How do we prepare for the end of our lives?

To this end, The 100% Certainty Project uses books to spark dialogue amongst citizens with the hope that grassroots efforts begin to build the social fabric we all will need at end-of-life. The project attempts to de-medicalize the experience of death & dying and engage community agencies and activists. We encourage the public to read and talk about books – books with themes of death, dying, bereavement, and loss. By facilitating conversation at dining room tables, in coffee shops and on street corners across Greater Hamilton and beyond, this reading initiative aims to increase public awareness about death & dying and lessen society’s discomfort facing death." Source: The 100% Certainty Project

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Please join us for the first in a series of FREE public events. As part of the Division of Palliative Care at McMaster University with McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences, and our "The 100% Certainty Project. Death: Something to Talk About" initiative, together with Heart House Hospice, am honoured to co-host and moderate this event at the Mississauga Library with my brilliant friend and colleague Dr. Kathy Kortes-Miller. While the event is free, registration is required via the Mississauga Public Library at (905) 615 4835.

In support of National Hospice Palliative Care Week, we'll hear about her experiences as a parent and spouse facing a cancer diagnosis, as a Social Worker in Palliative Care and as an academic researcher and educator. At this event, Kathy will share her insight and explore some of the big questions about living and dying. We'll also open up the conversation to the audience - questions are welcome. Please email questions in advance to our "100% Certainty" email address: talkaboutdeath100@gmail.com or, join us and ask Dr. Kortes-Miller directly. Her book "Talking About Death Won't Kill You. The Essential Guide to End-of-Life Conversations" will also be on sale at each event.

Please join us for this FREE public event. As part of the Division of Palliative Care with  McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences , and our "The 100% Certainty Project. Death: Something to Talk About", am honoured to co-host and moderate this event at the  Hamilton Public Library  with my brilliant friend and colleague Dr. Kathy Kortes-Miller. While the event is free, registration is required via  Eventbrite

Please join us for this FREE public event. As part of the Division of Palliative Care with McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences, and our "The 100% Certainty Project. Death: Something to Talk About", am honoured to co-host and moderate this event at the Hamilton Public Library with my brilliant friend and colleague Dr. Kathy Kortes-Miller. While the event is free, registration is required via Eventbrite

Please join us for this final evening in our series of FREE public events. As part of the Division of Palliative Care at  McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences , and our "The 100% Certainty Project. Death: Something to Talk About", together with  Carpenter Hospice , am honoured to co-host and moderate this event at the  Burlington Public Library  with my brilliant friend and colleague Dr. Kathy Kortes-Miller. While the event is free, registration is required via the Burlington Public Library at (905) 639 3611.

Please join us for this final evening in our series of FREE public events. As part of the Division of Palliative Care at McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences, and our "The 100% Certainty Project. Death: Something to Talk About", together with Carpenter Hospice, am honoured to co-host and moderate this event at the Burlington Public Library with my brilliant friend and colleague Dr. Kathy Kortes-Miller. While the event is free, registration is required via the Burlington Public Library at (905) 639 3611.

EXPLORING GRIEF AND LOSS LITERACY: SUPPORTING AND EMPOWERING SCHOOL COMMUNITIES

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Am thrilled to be offering a full-day of training on Feb. 1st for the Halton District School Board on “EXPLORING GRIEF AND LOSS LITERACY: SUPPORTING AND EMPOWERING SCHOOL COMMUNITIES”

Will be honoured to be present with so many professionals as we spend the day exploring: 

- Grief and Loss Literacy (related to dying, death and non-death losses)

- Stigma Related to Illness, Dying, Grief

- The Dialogue of Loss

- Support Across School Communities

- Promoting Capacity & Engagement

- Opportunities for Self-Care

Looking forward to sharing some brilliant resources!

Many healthcare students and providers do not feel prepared to encounter dying and death

Am excited to co-facilitate this event with the Division of Palliative Care at McMaster University as we discuss, "What makes life worth living in the face of death?".

Many healthcare students and providers do not feel prepared to encounter dying and death. As part of our 100% Certainty Project. Death: Something to Talk About, this event will feature: the stunning memoir When Breath Becomes Air; will show the brilliant TED Talk from Dr. Lucy Kalanithi; and will conclude the evening with a Death Cafe where we will discuss how to make the most of our finite lives.

Dinner is provided. Registration is required and space is limited. All healthcare disciplines are welcome!

For information, or to register, visit:

https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/100-certainty-project-death-cafe-tickets-43946860242 

FREE resources for families facing illness, uncertainty, grief and loss

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Am honoured to have been part of the development team for the latest resource, Kids Grief, which was just launched on the first National Bereavement Day in Canada. I believe it is important to share these valuable resources for individuals and families facing illness, uncertainty, grief and loss. This information is also helpful for any healthcare professional or volunteer wanting more information and resources when providing support in acute care, primary care or within a community setting.

The Canadian Virtual Hospice provides support and personalized information about palliative and end-of-life care to patients, family members, health care providers, researchers and educators. (Source: Canadian Virtual Hospice)

Kids Grief (0-18 yrs.) http://kidsgrief.ca/

Talking with Kids and Teens about Dying and Death. What do I tell the kids? How do I support them? A free online resource to provide guidance to parents on how to support children who are grieving the dying or death of someone in their life. It equips parents with the words and confidence to help their children grieve losses in healthy ways. (Source: Canadian Virtual Hospice)

YES, I WRITE ABOUT DEATH: ON THE WAYS PEOPLE RESPOND TO A “DEATH JOB” AND HOW I HANDLE IT

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"I tell them that it’s never my goal to glamorize death or tell people how they should or shouldn’t feel about death. I only hope my writing gives people permission to broach the topic."

Source: YES, I WRITE ABOUT DEATH: ON THE WAYS PEOPLE RESPOND TO A “DEATH JOB” AND HOW I HANDLE IT

 

“We know nothing about what is next” — Lessons on Loving & Losing a Child.

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"I cannot control their world, nor prevent them from all harm. All I can do is try and focus on the now. Focus on what matters... And love them. I can love them in every way I know how."

Source: “We know nothing about what is next”—Lessons on Loving & Losing a Child.

Death: A Part of Life. A 5-Part Mini Series (podcast)

Am honoured to have been a guest panelist on the final instalment of Death: A Part of Life - Part 5: The Grieving Process.

This informative 5-Part radio series with the Dr. Bob Kemp Hospice aired on CHML 900. Each week panelists including caregivers and healthcare professionals convened to open up a conversation about dying, death, grief and loss. The series explores issues such as: coping with the diagnosis of a serious illness; demystifying hospice palliative care; exploring available supports and services; advance care planning; the dying process and grieving which ultimately impacts us all.

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The links to the podcasts of Death: A Part of Life are listed below:

 Death, A Part Of Life - Part 1: Palliative Care

It’s a fact of life that at one point we all will die. But is it all as simple as that? Bill Kelly and the Bob Kemp hospice will be discussing grief, relief and the acceptance of passing away. On today’s show we discuss what happens when you’re told you don’t have much time left, and whether healthcare is asking too much of caregivers, and whether people are prepared for palliative care.

Death, A Part Of Life - Part 2: Changes To Palliative Care.

For our second show, we will discuss what the palliative care system is now, how it works and what changes need to be made. What does one of our local MPPs hear from his constituents about healthcare and in particular, palliative care? How would changes affect patients? Does fear have a hold on how we make our decisions once we’re diagnosed as palliative? An example of this is whether to choose palliative care or medically assisted death.

Death, A Part Of Life - Part 3: Religion and Palliative Care.

We continue our series this week with two topics. The first one will be discussing the experience of death. Everyone treats death in our world differently. But is it strictly a medical experience or is it a spiritual one? In our second half, we will talk about access to palliative care services in various sectors of our society. How do we help the vulnerable and the community obtain access to proper palliative care?

Death: A Part of Life - Part 4: Bucket lists and preparation.

Life should be celebrated at all stages, whether it be infancy, adulthood and as life comes to a close. So how can we make the most out of life? How can those who are in palliative care achieve their “bucket list” dreams before they pass, and how does it apply when it comes to their own personal circumstances? How do we define a “bucket list”? How wise is it to be prepared for eventual health issues? How should we plan for advanced care and how does it affect the family? How do we navigate through the difficult decisions and pain to provide care for loved ones who are palliative?

Death: A Part of Life - Part 5: The grieving process.

The final instalment in our series sees us discussing grief and how this isn’t just an event that happens in life but a process that families have to go through. How do families grieve the loss of a loved one? How can we support one another and how does grief affect children?

Source: Global News. AM 900 CHML

5 ways to improve care at the end of life

"All of us face the difficult prospect of a parent or loved one suffering from an illness that ultimately leads to death. When that time comes, we will want to ease their physical and emotional pain, respect their wishes, and allow them to die with dignity — the same things we will want for ourselves.

The way that Americans die has changed but, unfortunately, our medical system hasn’t kept up. It was designed at a time when death was often sudden or declines in health were relatively rapid. These days it is much more common for people to live longer with multiple chronic conditions, and we have the technology to prolong life as death approaches. End-of-life care is fragmented, intensive, and costly — and patients’ wishes are often lost due to poor communication."

Read the complete article at: STAT

Looking Death in the Face

"We tend to defer the question of living or dying well until it’s too late to answer. This might be the scariest thing about death: coming to die only to discover, in Thoreau’s words, that we haven’t lived."

Why is it so hard to talk about dying? @whenyoudieorg #hpm

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"When heading into the unknown unprepared, we humans are rarely at our most confident. And when it comes to death, we have plenty of reason to feel anxious. It’s times like these that we need to hear from those who’ve gone before us. And that’s what our latest WYD In Focus provides: candid accounts from family members and caregivers who’ve been present at the deaths of loved ones—because understanding what happens at the bedside might surprise you."

Source: When You Die

Starting the Conversation: Death Cafe debuts in Burlington.

Tell someone you’re headed to a Death Café and no doubt their expression morphs into something between bewilderment and abject horror.

Odd words to toss together, and the name conjures up all sorts of somber, gloomy thoughts.

But Death Cafes are not morbid, depressing places, nor are they gathering spots for zombies. ‘Patrons’ don’t dress in black or ghoulishly discuss death while sipping tea.

Death Cafes are, in fact, respectful spaces where people of all ages can congregate to chat informally, often with complete strangers, about death and dying.

And who would choose to do that?

As it turns out, quite a few people; enough so, that there was a waiting list for the first ever Burlington Death Café last week at city hall.

The “very brave souls” and “trailblazers” - as organizers called attendees - ranged in age from their 40s to 80s.

Death Cafes are based on an “international movement” that originated in the UK and they are designed to begin a conversation about an uncomfortable, often taboo, subject – death.

There is no agenda or objectives at Death Cafes,” explained Roxanne Torbiak, of The End Game, which partnered with Carpenter Hospice to present the event. (Originally scheduled for the grounds outside city hall but moved indoors because of sweltering temperatures)

“It is simply a conversation that happens over coffee, tea and cake. Interesting conversation and laughter is guaranteed,” she said.

Among participants at the local Death Café were those whose professions routinely deal with death, but there were others from all walks of life and faiths who simply wanted to share and listen, people who felt the initiative an important conduit in opening up a very important discussion in the city.

“It’s really an introduction to the community. We want to create awareness and offer safe spaces for people to come together and talk about dying and death,” said C. Elizabeth Dougherty, a hospice palliative care social worker and educator.

“We want to reach out to everyone, all ages, and normalize it for people, whether they’ve been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness or whether they’re living healthy, fruitful lives.

“We want to create safe spaces for people to come together, to talk about their fears, their questions, their concerns, share their experience and really normalize this conversation.”

In their respective jobs as minister and palliative care consultant, Joel Bootsma and Villy Simonetta are all too familiar with death.

“Some people are very grounded in faith and meet it with courage, even joy; some with fear or worry,” said Bootsma, a Christian Reform Church minister, who was “interested in finding out what the community is wrestling with over this issue.”

As witness to extremes in how people deal with dying and death, Simonetta loves the idea of taking that fear out of death.

“It is part of life. It’s a beautiful experience when we’re born and as we go through the journey of life, it’s something we’re facing so let’s face it the best way we can, spiritually, (and) with love (and) compassion,” said Simonetta.

“I’ve seen some incredibly beautiful experiences where families are prepared; they’re very spiritual and it’s an intimate bonding time. Whereas some families struggle so much, they don’t want to let go and I struggle with that too because I see their struggle. You’re trying to support them in that whole process.”

In Buddhism, it’s about making death peaceful and quiet so one can let go of this world easily, commented Deborah Klassen, centre director of a Tibetan Buddhist Centre.

Participant Ann Dion was “privileged” to have been present for her husband’s, mother’s and mother-in-law’s death and

she feels strongly that the topic needs to be open and shared.

“We can’t be frightened because it’s there, it’s not going away,” said Dion. “(It’s like) If you don’t talk about it, it’s not going to happen.”

The Death Café was a natural supplement to Carpenter Hospice’s new Compassionate City Charter, said Bonnie Tompkins, Carpenter’s community health coordinator,

The hospice has based its charter on a UK model, and worked closely with the city to create “a framework of 12 social changes” to put Burlington on the path towards being a more compassionate city, said Tompkins.

“It’s all about building capacity in the community to support people because the reality is, the population is aging and the medical system can only do so much,” said Tompkins.

Many people don’t realize that healthcare professionals aren’t given training and education on dying and death and how to care beyond the medical model, or how to have those intimate, essential conversations about the psychosocial impacts of dying and death, said Dougherty.

“It’s about encouraging and empowering people to have these conversations with their families, friends and healthcare providers about advanced care planning, and their values and wishes for end of life care, said Dougherty, who co-founded The End Game, with Torbiak to provide professionally facilitated education and training sessions to normalize living and dying.

There is the demystifying piece to the movement, but the charter is also about embedding with community organizations to build bridges and links, said Tompkins.

“These conversations are so timely too because we know that only 16-30 per cent of Canadians actually have access to hospice palliative care services, so certainly funding and access is a concern,” said Dougherty.

Thankfully, she added, the quality of living and dying is on the national landscape, so it’s an especially important time to have these conversations, to raise awareness, and build a groundswell of public support.

Both Tompkins, who was sole caregiver for her terminally ill partner, and Dougherty, who has been immersed in palliative care for 17 years, said their experiences have taught them that open communication with loved ones is critical.

“Families are incredibly conflicted and very much wanting to be open and honest with each other, but the fear of not knowing what to say, or how to say it, or just the worry about the sadness. …denial is an incredible coping strategy for many people,” said Dougherty.

“The families I see that manage best certainly are those that have those open conversations, admittedly difficult conversations. It’s ok to be sad, it’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to be frustrated but it’s important to share what’s on your mind,” said Dougherty.

Last week marked the first Death Café in Burlington, but it’s certainly not the last, said Dougherty.

At the launch of the Compassionate City Charter this fall, organizers hope to have two simultaneous Death Cafes on Oct. 8, which happens to be World Hospice Palliative Care Day.

“We’re just getting started; we’re starting a revolution,” smiled Dougherty.

Death Cafe. Increasing awareness of death with a view to making the most of our lives. #DeathCafe

Carpenter Hospice and The End Game are pleased to invite you to Burlington's Death Cafe!

Death Cafe is an international movement where people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death. Our objective is 'to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives'

At Death Cafe, you can expect a group directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counselling session. It is a respectful, open-air public event where people of all communities and belief systems are welcome to have discussions about death. 

Interesting conversation is guaranteed! 

Death Cafes are always offered: 
1. On a not for profit basis
2. In an accessible, respectful and confidential space
3. With no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action
4. With coffee, tea and cake! 

The Death Cafe model was developed by Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid, based on the ideas of Bernard Crettaz. See more at: http://www.deathcafe.com

Please RSVP by July 20th as limited seating is available. For further information please contact: 

(905) 631 9994 ext.138

Carpenter Hospice: Bonnie Tompkins commhlthcoord@thecarpenterhospice.com

The End Game: Roxanne Torbiak roxanne@theendgame.ca

Death cafes serve up life and death conversations. #DeathCafe

"Over a cup of coffee, a little cake — and sometimes beer — people meet to talk about death and fear of dying in the death cafe..."

Listen to this episode of The Current for more.

The End Game: Conversations about Life and Death #hpm #ACP

Throughout life, we celebrate milestones - weddings, births, anniversaries - but the milestone that we are most often afraid to confront is one of the most impactful - death. 

For many people, talking about end-of-life is uncomfortable or even taboo. But sooner or later, we all face death. What fears are holding us back from having essential conversations that will improve our own lives and the lives of those we care about? 

We understand that death is informed by the lived experience and want to create opportunities for the lived experience to be better informed. We have just launched a new series creating public forums to empower people to have conversations about living and dying. We want to foster opportunities for the general public, healthcare professionals, first responders, health science students, residents of long term care, financial planners, faith communities and community organizations to talk about living and dying. We strive to normalize conversations about living and dying in a non-judgemental, non-denominational, upbeat and interactive session. We aim to provide attendees the opportunity to consider their values and receive credible resources regarding advance care planning and end-of-life care.

For more details about our free event or to register please follow this link to EventBrite

Storytelling in Grief: Honouring Connections while Celebrating Legacies #hpm

“I don’t know how to tell my family about the diagnosis…” “I haven’t told my kids that I’m dying…”

Families often reeling following the diagnosis of Cancer or other life-limiting diseases, struggle with how, and when, to have those essential conversations. I am a Social Worker and for the past 17 years have had the privilege of caring for people facing a life-limiting illness. It is an intimate and profound experience - sitting alongside people as they face end-of-life. They share their hopes and fears - about living and dying - and about caring for and leaving behind those they love. Trying to protect their families but also wanting to prepare them. Whether they speak lovingly about a partner, or children, or siblings, parents or best friends… grieving these losses begins at time of diagnosis.

While treating and managing the disease is important - equally important is caring for the person diagnosed with the disease. What is truly important to them? Who is important to them? How do we provide support in a manner that is congruent with their values and wishes? How do we normalize grief following a diagnosis, and in turn, sit alongside them creating safe spaces - and time - to share their grief should they so choose? As clinicians, we can facilitate supportive interventions at any stage of illness and ideally engage the entire family. Sadly, many families - and specifically many children and youth remain uninformed following the diagnosis of a life-limiting illness, largely resulting from parents need to “protect” and their fear of not knowing what to say. This phenomenon is not rare as it also extends to healthcare professionals, with many reporting fear and uncertainty as to how to best support grieving families and children. This is true whether a child has been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness, or the parent of a child has been diagnosed. Understandably, if the psychosocial needs of families, specifically children and youth remains unaddressed, it only serves to create additional distress for parents and caregivers.

As a Palliative Social Worker I recognize the importance of creating safe spaces and time to have these conversations - to support families in telling their stories, celebrating their connections, and should they so choose, to openly and collectively share their grief. A specific legacy project created opportunities for families to do just that - to hold on, while letting go. I have completed this project with many families facing a life-limiting disease - following diagnosis, throughout the illness, at end-of-life and following the death of a loved one. This can be completed with children of all ages and regardless of the make up of the family - large or small, we meet together and explore their understanding of the diagnosis, the impact of the illness while also celebrating and honouring connections.  That Project? While the results have been profound, the activity is, quite simply, creating a “Hug”. 

To be clear, this is not a professional boundary violation, but in fact, a creative legacy project that can be done by anyone, anywhere, at any time. In obtaining consent from parents and caregivers, I explain that this is an opportunity for the family to collectively talk about the illness, share stories and experiences, communicate concerns, dispel fears, foster support and enact plans. I introduce this activity as a symbol of their unending love – and the Hug can be taken anywhere - to chemo daycare, during an admission to hospital or hospice, or even once someone has died – this “hug” is also something that can be buried or cremated and remain with a loved one forever…

I assure you this experience is more than a creative activity - it is an intimate and collaborative experience for the family to create a lasting memory. While each experience is unique and the degree to which some “patients” may be able participate varies, in each situation, the family gently accommodates their loved one.  What remains universal are the shared laughs, tears and a multitude of stories - reminders of shared experiences and memories of their lives together.

But perhaps I should explain… I feel it is important to outline the essential elements required for this intervention… Specifically, informed consent from the family, clean bed sheets, colourful markers, scissors and glitter. It is simply a matter of laying a sheet on the ground, then a family member lays down on the sheet while another family member traces their outstretched arms and outstretched fingers. After sitting up, lines are drawn to connect the tracings of each arm and then cut along the lines. Although tantamount to making a scarf – it is, more importantly the outstretched arms of their loved one, it is a personalized “Hug”. The child, or partner, sibling, parent or friend then adorns their hug with messages and images and reminders of the shared connection with their loved one - in essence, the “Hug” becomes a tangible expression of their love. 

While I involved partners, children, siblings, cousins and friends in this activity long ago I wondered, what if their loved one (or the “patient”, to be clear) also wanted to reciprocate?  I began asking patients about this and the suggestion of leaving this touching legacy was always met with resounding approval.  While this always requires patient consent and discussion throughout, I have completed this activity with people who were ambulatory as well as people who were bed-bound. While collectively engaging the individual and family, for those who are bed-bound, we carefully slide a folded sheet behind the back of their loved-one. Throughout the activity, the family shares stories and memories, while tenderly helping to hold and trace the outstretched arms and fingers on each hand - every action and movement becomes an incredibly intimate experience. In the case of pathological fracture, we have used the singular tracing of one arm to make a mirror image - completing the hug.  Taking that singular hug and laying sheets over top, additional copies are then traced for each family member. This not only engages entire families at the bedside, but also creates a lasting legacy for the surviving family. We often discuss sewing material from favourite blankets, shirts or sweaters on the reverse to preserve a tangible and personal connection.

I have completed this activity when families speak a language different from my own. Despite only being able to communicate through an Interpreter, the conversation remains seamless throughout as we create a beautiful and moving tribute for their family while they collectively support each other in their shared love and grief. While many young couples anticipate milestones like a wedding or the birth of a child, I have also facilitated this project at the bedside of the dying parent together with their young adult children, creating a space to share their hopes and stories while honouring their legacy. This supportive intervention has also bridged great distances, when families were thousands of miles apart. After completing the activity with the patient and family at the bedside, I encourage them to share the idea with extended family and friends across the country and in one specific case, family members of all ages from across the country made Hugs and sent them by courier to the bedside of their dying loved one. Their many colourful “Hugs” surrounded her when she died, each and every one told a story and was on display around her room as a meaningful and tangible connection. Much to the comfort of the family, each and every “Hug” was later buried with her. I have also completed this project with children following the death of a parent, it is especially important for those who were not informed about the illness or were unaware that death was expected. It is so essential to create a space for children to grieve alongside their families to share their thoughts, shed tears, and express the range of their feelings, including grief. We talk about what it feels like to receive hug from someone you love and the opportunity to create a lasting memento to leave with their parent as an expression of their unending connection. Although a parent - or any loved one might die before families and friends have an opportunity to say goodbye, we can still create opportunities for families to collectively share their love and express their sorrow while honouring the legacy of their loved one.  

I believe as Health Care Professionals, we have an obligation to provide empathic person and family-centred care. From time of diagnosis we have an opportunity to facilitate honest communication, and in turn, promote adaptive coping strategies for those facing a life-limiting illness. In doing so, we can provide invaluable opportunities for families to connect, and collectively process experiences from time of diagnosis through to end-of-life, and into bereavement. I feel extraordinarily privileged that families allow me into their lives - to share their stories, their love and their grief. However brief our time may be together, I hold that time as sacred and do all I can to create a safe-space to foster these connections while honouring the legacy of those living and dying.

How might we reimagine the end-of-life experience for ourselves and our loved ones? @OpenIDEO #hpm

“ ‘...I am asking that we make space – physical, psychic room, to allow life to play itself all the way out – so that rather than just getting out of the way, aging and dying can become a process of crescendo through to the end.’ ~ BJ Miller

Each of our lives is a story. As we plan for its final chapter, we have the opportunity to incorporate our passions, relationships, and spirituality to make dying better. How might we make this process more human-centered so we can live fully until the very end? Let’s re-imagine how we prepare for, share and live through the final chapter of our story.”

Talking About #Death Won’t Kill You. @Kathykm @TEDTalks #Death #Education #hpm

"An unconventional death educator with an equal parts wry and wise delivery style, Dr. Kathy Kortes-Miller is committed to showing her audience that talking about death and dying won’t kill you. Using stories and research, Kathy extends an invitation to view death as not a taboo subject - but rather a shared life experience. Audience members walk away with shifted perspectives and a deep understanding that talking about death, without knowing or needing all the “answers”, actually brings us closer to our loved ones than we ever imagined possible."

Hacking the #Hospital #Death. When you Can't #Die at #Home. @TheLizArmy #ACP

“Spoiler alert: we are all going to die

One thing I have noticed as an “empowered patient” is that most people don’t talk about death and dying. We might think about it, but we don’t plan in advance or communicate what we would want if we ever were put in a position where we could not speak for ourselves. I understand. It is an uncomfortable topic.

According to a 2012 report by the California Health Care Foundation, 82% of Californian’s think it is important to put your end of life wishes in writing, yet only 23% have done so. Why is this important?

For one thing, doctors are trained to save people, and without a medical order or an advance directive, a medical team will, by default, try to save your life by all methods possible…

As a relatively healthy 36-year-old, saving my life by all methods possible actually sounds like a good idea! But if I was dying, say from an advanced brain cancer, there is no amount of CPR in the world that is going to cure me of cancer… 

The beginning of the end

…The medical team gave J medication to take away any pain he may experience. They removed his breathing tube, and unhooked all machines except for the one monitoring his heart beat. Quickly, his bed was moved to the sunny room where his friends, including myself, were waiting outside by the window.

As soon as the medical team cleared out we poured in. One person set up the speakers. Another friend was ready with the iPod. The door to the medical area was closed. The rest of us swarmed in around him: hands placed on his hands, his legs, his feet. The room was small, so some hovered around the perimeter and in the doorway to the open air…

We fell silent and the first song began…

A friend said “Orange Sky” held a lot of meaning for J. I had never heard this song, but now I will never forget it. I watched J’s heart rate decrease during the first two-thirds of the song, from the low 30s to zero. The monitor began to ding. A friend pushed a button, silencing the sounds. I held J’s feet.

We listened through the end of the song, with our faces on J’s, tears pouring out of our eyes. I was sobbing. We were devastated.

No one danced.

When the song ended there was silence.

Then the scene from a movie played out: A doctor wearing a white coat walked into the room. He donned a stethoscope and raised the end to J’s chest. His hand moved to various areas of our friend’s chest, and down and around to his stomach. He raised each of J’s eyelids to shine a flashlight into the pupils looking to see if they would constrict. The pupils did not move. The doctor looked at the clock and said, “It is 6:11. Take as long as you need.” He exited the room. End scene.

We all stood looking at J for a long time. Then the music began again… ‘We Could Be Heroes,’ by David Bowie.

The end

The best way to capture your healthcare preferences is by having a conversation with your loved ones, appointing a medical decision maker, and then documenting your preferences in an advance healthcare directive.”

How To Support A Young Person Through Grief

“This early interaction with death is overwhelming, but a pivotal point for learning. This grief acts as a blueprint for not just how these young people process death, but their approach to the many challenges they will face in life.

If you are struggling to help a teenager with their grief, know that your concern is evidence of your care. There is nothing that can make this not awful, so don't make your aim to stop the tears, but rather to support them in what they need. Respecting their needs shows them that you believe in their ability to know what's best for themselves. You're doing good.”