In the News

Once you start focusing on a topic, it seems to be everywhere, and that has been the case with the issue of end of life care since we started planning the 2016 Marianne Rockett Williams Symposium. Here are some of the intriguing articles that have been shared with me in the last few months.

Unequal Lives, Unequal Deaths – A powerful NY Times article about how economic realities and inequalities shape end of life choices.

Denver Post article about the changes in Medicare reimbursement that are influencing conversations about end of life decisions.

Driving Miss Norma – A reminder that what matters at the end of life is what matters during life.

An amazing art exhibit that asks “how do we make the most of living?”

When a Doctor and Patient Disagree – How conversations about the reasons behind end of life wishes can be just as important as delineating specific instructions







Docomenting End-of-Life Wishes

On Sunday, June 5 from 9-9:50am we will be hosting a panel of specialists — comprising physicians, lawyers and a social worker — to explain the differences between the various legal and medical forms available for documenting your end-of-life wishes. Join us during coffee hour in the Parish Hall for this informative discussion.

Advance Directives

An advance directive is a written instruction that states how you want your health care decisions to be made if you become incapacitated or cannot express your wishes. Advance directives guide your physician and other health care professionals, and relieve your family from the burden of guessing what types of care and treatment you would want to receive. In Alabama, the advance directive can include both a living will and the appointment of a health care proxy, as well as a page for writing any other directions about what you may or may not want done in your own words.

For more information, view a copy of the Alabama Advance Directive for Health Care and the guide entitled  A Gift to Your Family (also available through the East Alabama Medical Association or your Parish Nurse).

Living Will

A living will is a legal documentation of a person’s wishes regarding medical treatment, and is often completed as part of other legal documents such as a will.  The living will is sometimes seen as a type of advance directive, but  typically more limited in scope as it only covers decisions about life­-sustaining procedures if you had a terminal condition or were in a state of permanent unconsciousness.

Health Care Proxy or Durable Power of Attorney

This is someone you appoint in your “Advance Directive for Health Care” form (or by a separate Health Care Durable Power of Attorney form) to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to express your own wishes for care or treatment. It is important to have honest, open conversations with this individuals about your wishes.

Other Resources for Getting Started

If you’re not sure how you’d like to complete the forms mentioned above, it’s still a good idea to begin writing down what matters most to you at the end of your life in personal and spiritual terms in addition to medical and legal areas. Some resources to help you get started include:

Five Wishes

The Conversation Project

The Stanford Letter Project

And once you’ve documented your wishes, be sure to let others know where to find them.  Check out this wallet-size card by the American Hospital Association for something that can be carried with you.



Summer Reading List

You may not think that reading about the topic of death and dying is appropriate for summer, but in fact there are a number of newly published books that examine the aging and dying process with hope and inspiration.  Look for some of these, available to be signed out, on the shelves of the Holy Trinity library now.

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks

This world-renowned neurologist, famous for his writings on strange neurological conditions, died last August.  He spent the two years of his of life writing this series of essays, several of which went viral after their release. His last essay includes the point, “I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself.”  Doesn’t that alone make you want to read more?

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Reviews of this memoir, written by a very successful neurosurgeon who was diagnosed and died from terminal cancer, have been overwhelmingly positive.  Abraham Verghese penned this line in the introduction: “One of the most poignant things about Dr. Kalanithi’s story is that he had postponed learning how to live while pursuing his career in neurosurgery. By the time he was ready to enjoy a life outside the operating room, what he needed to learn was how to die.”  The story that pulled me in was his decision to have a child after learning he was sick, because of his belief that living is not about avoiding suffering, it’s about creating meaning.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Happens in the End by Atul Gawande

Most of us have heard of this book, although I have yet to read it (perhaps this will be my summer)!  Gawande examines the “overmedicalization” of aging and dying through personal vignettes, yet his popularity as a writer for the The New Yorker promises that the reading won’t be dry.  If you don’t feel like reading, you can also listen to or watch this Frontline episode.

 The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America by Ann Neumann

After caring for her dying father, Neumann decides to become a hospice volunteer and through this novel examines the varying perspectives and complications of how we deal with dying in America today.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant: A Memoir by Roz Chast

This would be the most humorous of this list, so certainly suitable for summer reading. New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast writes a graphic novel about watching her parents decline, become too frail to stay in their longtime apartment, suffer dementia and die in their nineties in a hospice-care facility.