…Practical advice on finding a connection with who you are, what you're about and what a good death means to you as you grow inwardly and age outwardly.
Diane Burnside Murdock’s The New Art of Dying
Tag : Advance Care Planning

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shutterstock_129035513Today commercials are on just about everything. And these everythings used to be definite unmentionables, even taboo. It was rude and inappropriate to talk about them even at the dinner table!

But these days, you can flip through channels and hear commercials and see public awareness ads on such subjects as depression, mental illness, AIDs, breast cancer, domestic violence, autism, memory loss and Alzheimer’s. This is a good thing. Hearing about these things can help those who are in the need to know and help others become aware and understanding.

Isn’t it time to lift the taboo about not talking about dying? Isn’t it a good idea to have infomercials about how to be prepared, have a talk, and have a plan?

There’s a lot of discussion on this — opening up and talking about end of life — on the web. Wonderful and empowering sites. To name a few: The Conversation Project, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation, Death Over Dinner, National Healthcare Decision Day, Compassion and Choices, and ACP (Advance Care Plan) Decisions. These organizations and related sites center around being prepared for the inevitable and dying the way you would want.

Yes, it’s a fact. We all get dying, somehow, someday. It’s unavoidable. A dying awareness campaign applies to everyone. The commercials wouldn’t prevent or cure ourselves of dying but they’d make us aware of the need to know ourselves, the choices (medical, palliative, legal), and the problems that we may face when dying.

Let’s face it, being discerning about all this frees us to focus on something very important when the time comes – letting go and helping our loved ones let us go too.

I believe it’s time to launch an awareness ad campaign on how we die and how you can be prepared.

What do you think?

I’m not one to suggest something if I wouldn’t do it. So heads up, I’m currently working with others creating YouTube infomercials that will be coming shortly. Probably by February 2014. I’ll keep you posted.



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dianeshutter stockSurveys such as one by The Conversation Project tell us that nearly all of us believe we should have conversations about wishes at end of life but few of us actually do it.

I honestly believed these findings applied to everyone else that I didn’t know. Certainly not my friends. Not my family. And so I decided to find out….. Were my loved ones talking about dying and why or why not?

I also wanted to know what’s behind these findings. What are the explanations and excuses for not talking about dying? For not having appointed healthcare proxy? Or, not having an advance medical directive?

What I found out validated the reports! I can’t believe it, not in my backyard. Not my loved ones. They choose not to have conversations about wishes at end of life.

Here’s what I heard and maybe you might find that some of what’s said sounds familiar.

Sure I procrastinate about planning how I wish to die. I’m healthy and I’m not old.

What’s the point of planning for something you have no control over, we’re all going to die somehow.

When my Mom died, it was wild, last minute decision making among the family, horrible arguments, sleepless nights and worst of all the guilt I live with everyday of letting her die. You’re asking me if I talk about dying? Nope, don’t see the point because it’ll get wild and crazy anyway.

I have chosen someone as my power of attorney. What do you mean that that person can’t make medical decisions for me?

I keep meaning to get around to it but there never seems to be a right time.

Why have family believe I have a death wish?

When I look back I know I should have spoken up for my Mom, but I also knew I didn’t want to feel guilty about not doing everything possible to save her. I’m sure my kids will be the same way regardless of what I say I want or don’t want. No, I don’t talk about it and I don’t have an advance medical directive. I don’t see the need. It’ll all work out.

Of course she can speak for me, she always has! Why sign a piece of paper?

I don’t like talking about dying. It’s morbid.

You know, it’s easier to talk about death and after you’re gone. I’ve had no problem writing up who gets what and where I want to be put to rest. I even created a list of songs to play at the wake I call, “Tunes to Die For.” That’s easier.

Just shoot me.

When the time comes, leave me on the hospital’s doorstep.

I don’t want to burden my family with conversations about dying. What happens, happens. They can handle it.

Leave it up to others – you know, the doctors, my wife, the kids.

So, there you have it. The reasons behind not having the talk generate this: choosing to pass the responsibility to others without choosing someone to speak on your behalf when you cannot.

 Here’s something about health care proxy that I think you should hear:

Charles Sabatino, Director of the ABA’s Commission on Law and Aging said, “We do know that the appointment of a health care agent or proxy improves the decision making process, from both the provider’s and agent’s perspectives, because it clarifies who should be directly involved in the decisions at the time decisions need to be made and allows the decision-maker to weigh all the facts and options in real time. However, (and this is really important) merely an appointed agent does not necessarily mean that the agent is well-informed about the patient’s goals and wishes or engaged effectively in decision-making on behalf of the patient.”

Appointing a health care proxy is a big deal!

And yes, it’s better to have one than not have a plan at all. But better still, is to choose someone who really knows you and your wishes for dying care. Someone who has helped you along the way and will be there to help you in the end.

There’s another way I want to say this: That having these conversations can be gift to give to yourself and your loved ones about the lasting memory of the last days you live.  And that’s a most incredible ultimate plan for end of life.

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WaitingA friend of mine is dealing with a very difficult situation, needing medical assistance to stay alive. She’s on a dialysis machine going for a third transplant.

Her older brother is going for testing now to be a live donor. This would be three times with living donors willing to save her life. The first transplant lasted twelve years, the second, ten. She’s in her 50s. Donors, doctors and medicine clearly are her heroes.

There’s no question she is facing tough stuff but her attitude speaks volumes. She’s one of the most vibrant and brave people I’ve met.

She wrote me to say that the subject of dying is completely terrifying to her and said that’s true for the many others who are fighting for their lives every day.

Dying scares me too.

But it isn’t a choice. We are all going to die. Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier to talk about it but not talking about it can lead to unwanted care. And unwanted care is wrong care.

That’s why I write about dying. We can choose how we wish to die by making our choices reflect who we have been our whole life. How our beliefs, background, family, and experiences all come into play as we live every day to the end of our days.

Dying is deeply personal and should be about you. That means knowing your wishes and the wishes of those you love.

It’s knowing you are going to die and being prepared for it at any time. That’s better than not having the conversation and an advance care plan. That’s better for you and better for your loved ones.

I reflect on her words and yes, it’s hard to know what to say to her. I want the best for her. Now and tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. I hope she thinks about what she is saying and thinks about what I am saying too.

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Posted on May 15, 2013 by Diane Burnside Murdock