Thanks to Karen Wyatt MD for this Guest post. Karen is a creative leader in showing us the many options for bringing End of Life discussion out into the open, which benefits everyone.
If you are concerned at all about your own end-of-life or how your parents and your children will be cared for when they die, you should know that we need to transform the way people die in our country and we need to begin that process now.
Our current abysmal statistics in end-of-life care (70% of Americans say they would prefer to die at home, but only 25% actually do) are the result of multi-layered issues that are societal, cultural, medical, economical, financial, and political in nature. So how can we make a difference? How can we even begin to change such a vast and complex system?
The simple answer is to start wherever you are, in your own backyard, so to speak. While we may not be able to single-handedly transform the death industry in our country, each one of us can do something in our lives and our own communities to make a difference. We just have to be creative and strongly motivated to implement change.
The very first step we can take is in some ways the most important: we must lift the veil of denial that overshadows death and dying in our society and begin to have open, healthy, inspiring conversations about the end-of-life. If you would like to work toward better end-of-life care, here are some action steps you can take to begin the forward momentum right now, in your own surroundings:
- Plan a “Death Over Dinner” event.
Invite your friends and family for dinner and a conversation about death. The Death Over Dinner website has tools to help you plan your event including wording for your invitation and a selection of audio or written content for your guests to check out before they arrive for dinner. Start with the Death Over Dinner website and get the assistance you need to plan your event.
- Start a “Death Café” in your neighborhood.
Consider starting your own Death Cafe – an informal gathering of strangers to talk about death and dying. You don’t need to have any particular training to host a Death Cafe and there is no agenda for the meetings. Check out the Death Cafe website for their guidelines for starting a Death Café: www.deathcafe.com
- Start an End-of-Life Book Club.
Create a monthly book club that meets in a local library or bookstore to read and discuss books about the end-of-life. There are dozens and dozens of excellent books out there that you will enjoy reading and that will spark fascinating discussions. Some books (like What Really Matters) feature a Reader’s Guide you can use to lead your group discussion. Check out the Recommended Reading lists from EOL University (www.eoluniversity.com/recommended-reading) and Seven Ponds (http://www.sevenponds.com/multimedia/books) to get started.
- Teach a “Five Wishes” Workshop.
Help people in your community complete a Five Wishes document by planning and facilitating a workshop to talk them through the process step-by-step. You might offer to do the workshop at a senior center in your community or at a local church. Aging With Dignity has guidelines on their website for facilitating a Five Wishes workshop (http://www.agingwithdignity.org/host-a-workshop.php).
- Host a Film Screening and Discussion
Consider hosting a community-wide event featuring an end-of-life documentary film and discussion. You will need a place to show the film such as a local theater, college or high school, or a hospital that has a conference facility. Click on the movie titles listed below for information on acquiring the film for your screening. Find a local speaker or a panel of speakers to lead a group discussion about the end-of-life after the film. Here are some recommended documentary films to consider: Death: A Love Story, Death Makes Life Possible, A Will for the Woods, Love in Our Own Time, and Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall.
These are just a few of many ideas for how you might encourage open conversations about the end-of-life in your community. You can read about additional actions steps here. Whatever step you choose to take, get started now. Once you begin to get people to talk and think about their own end-of-life, you will see a gradual shift in attitude in your community and find more and more opportunities for change unfolding.
About the Author:
(Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician and the author of the award-winning book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying.” She is a frequent keynote speaker and radio show guest whose profound teachings have helped many find their way through the difficult times of life. Learn more about her work at www.karenwyattmd.com or sign up for her end-of-life interview series at www.eoluniversity.com.)