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Celebrating Life

Since the spring of 2012, a significant part of my work at Big Bend Hospice has been to encourage important conversations and decisions regarding healthcare planning for the end of life or for a medical crisis. I had always understood that hospice work should include such matters, but had not fully caught the vision of our CEO, Cathy Atkison. Believing that hospice workers should be experts in all aspects of end-of-life care, she wanted us to be equipped to initiate and facilitate the sorts of discussions that help families better navigate the complex healthcare system and our intricate family networks for the best possible outcomes. Big Bend Hospice invested in my training through the reputable “Respecting Choices” model out of Lacrosse, Wisconsin. Their approach has been in development since 1985 and they have remarkable statistics for the number of people in their locale with Advance Directives, the number of people who get what they want at life’s end and not what they don’t want, and the number of loved ones with healthier bereavement outcomes.

It took me a while to warm up to the idea. Part of that may have been that I was just acknowledging the mortality of my parents. Slow study, I know! With them in their eighties and me in hospice work, you would have thought I would come to that realization sooner. But my head and heart were not in sync on the matter until health crises for both parents meant they needed to move to Tallahassee where I could better care for them.

Another reluctance on my part was figuring out how advance care planning might be ministerial. Again, slow on the uptake, but I realize now just how pastoral it is to help persons, families and those who matter most to them, to consider important decisions that we all will one day face regarding our health care and end-of-life logistics. And who better than trained clergy to ease into that conversation?

I have researched advance care planning, gone to and made presentations about advance care planning, done my own advance care planning, and worked with my own family in creating their advance care plans. As part of our Big Bend Hospice PEACE program, “Planning Early About Care at the End,” I have met with individuals, couples, and families to discuss how to talk with each other about such sensitive matters, how to complete advance directives, and other plans for a meaningful end. I have led Death Cafes for Big Bend Hospice since 2013, and our “Living, Loving, Leaving this Life Series” of presentations about the topic of death since 2016 to normalize conversations about death, the most common human event of all, besides birth.

So, imagine my surprise when in preparation for our upcoming community National Healthcare Decisions Day event at the Senior Center,, I read this statement by Dr. Diane Meier. She is a noted geriatrician and palliative care physician who directs our national Center to Advance Palliative Care. When asked at a conference on advance care planning in Melbourne, Australia, for some tips that might help get difficult conversations rolling, she said, “ I think encouraging people to talk about death is a mistake.” “What?” I asked out loud, though alone in my office.

I found her statement shocking. It is precisely what I have been trying to do for the past six years! Meier goes on to say, “Talking about death is asking people to do something counter-intuitive and counter to our evolution as a species. Our survival as a species has been about pushing off death, not accepting it. That is a primal urge, not an intellectual or cognitive process.”

Her solution is to focus on the best possible life. What I hear her saying is not that we ignore advance care planning, but that we approach it from the perspective of living well for as long as we can. “Celebrating Life” is our theme for National Healthcare Decisions Day and our community task force, along with Big Bend Hospice, hope that you will join us as we consider ways to ensure that we live well. Our expert panel (please see impressive list to follow) will be on hand to offer their unique perspective about the process and value of advance care planning and to answer your questions.

If you go:
What: Celebrating Life: Community National Healthcare Decisions Day event – Free
Who: Adults of all ages and health conditions
When: Tuesday, April 17, 2018 at 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
Where: Senior Center at 1400 North Monroe Street
Parking: Free valet, also limited parking on side streets and at Center
Presenters: Featured Speaker – Rev. Candace McKibben, Director of Faith Outreach at Big Bend Hospice
Expert Panel: Lauchlin Waldoch, Elder Law Attorney; Brant Copeland, D.Min., Pastor, First Presbyterian Church; Patricia Goodwin, LCSW, Retired Hospice Social Worker, Big Bend Hospice Volunteer, and Family Member; John E. Agens, Jr., MD, Florida State University College of Medicine; Moderator, Jean Munn, PhD, MSW, Florida State University College of Social Work
Host: Big Bend Hospice and the Community Advance Care Planning Encouragement Task Force
Contact: Rev. Candace McKibben, Big Bend Hospice, 850-671-6029 or candace@bigbendhospice.org