A few years ago, I volunteered my time at a local urban senior center presenting talks about life and death.  When I scanned the senior program booklet, I saw vibrant activities such as ukulele lessons, tap dancing, self-defense and Tai Chi. With my background in Intensive Care, the seniors I see are usually very sick and either lying in bed, sitting in a chair or at the most, taking a few steps in the room.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from this robust group of independent seniors when addressing topics that can seem a little morbid or depressing.

What I pleasantly discovered is that people want to talk about life and death once they have someone willing to broach the subject.  We discussed the following topics:

·      death and dying
·      advance directives (and all those forms!)
·      patient advocacy and
·      life support

They wanted to talk about all these subjects once they were introduced to them.  We had rich conversations about what they have experienced themselves or with family members. They wanted to hear the stories and lessons learned that enrich our lives.

One woman told me about her husband’s care and she started to cry because she didn’t know how to get what he wanted.  She didn’t understand why their primary care doctor didn’t talk to them about advance directives before he died.  She thought it would be different in the end and was disappointed that people didn’t tell her the truth about how long he had left and the choices for his care. After 15 years, the tears were still just under the surface for her.

Others were surprised to hear they could schedule a doctor’s appointment, covered by Medicare, to talk about advance directives. Why didn’t their doctor tell them? How come they didn’t know?  Because not everyone is comfortable with the conversation or willing to be vulnerable, it can be scary. But what’s even scarier is having tears come to the surface after 15 years because the pain is still there.

Now that you know, you have the power to take responsibility for yourself and complete your advance directives.  Then go enjoy the ukulele lessons, tap dancing, self-defense and Tai Chi, with peace of mind.

“The most effective way to do it, is to do it.” – Amelia Earhart

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