Living Thoughtfully Dying Well by Steve Carpenter

In early April I had the privilege of helping my Mom celebrate her 92nd birthday.

Steve & Chris with Elsie Carpenter, a young 92.

Steve, his mother Elsie (a young 92), and his wife, Chris.

My wife, three brothers, and their spouses all gathered in Rhode Island, my home state, at a very nice Italian restaurant close to North Bay Manor, my mother’s assisted living facility, for a lovely evening together. Mom is doing remarkably well. She’s doing even better than she was two years ago when my brothers and I last gathered around her on her 90th birthday. About two years ago her medicines were adjusted and she seems to be much more alert. She doesn’t get out much anymore but still manages with a walker and a bit of help at the curbs and when getting in and out of a car. It was a joy to be with her, and the rest of my family, to celebrate this happy occasion.

Carpenters2014

Elsie Carpenter, center, celebrates her 92nd birthday with her four sons and their wives.

In addition to the usual cake and candles, my brother Bill and I, with some help from our wives, wrote Mom a song to the tune of the 1920s jazz classic, “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” However, rather than extolling her “five foot two, eyes of blue” we sang:

Born in England in ‘22
Sailed across the ocean blue
Now she’s almost 92
Has anybody seen my Mom?

Married George in World War II
Had four boys, two by two
Now she’s almost 92
Has anybody seen my Mom?

Loves her family through and through
All the boys and in-laws, too
Her apartment has a view
Has anybody seen my Mom?

Now she eats off a menu
Breakfast, lunch and supper too
There’s almost naught for her to do
Has anybody seen my Mom?

At North Bay a big to-do
When they go in search of you
She must be hiding in the loo.*
Has anybody seen my Mom?

Has anybody seen my Mom?

*In England a bathroom or water closet is sometimes called a “loo.”

Reflecting on Mom’s long life, I would say it has been well lived.

Herald Press author Dr. Glen Miller, in his new book Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well, challenges us to reflect on our own lives and make preparations for a “good death.” By that he means a death that comes while resting comfortably at home, surrounded by family and loved ones, not while lying in a hospital bed surrounded by machines with tubes coming out your nose. His premise is that everyone deserves a good death and that takes planning. The book contains many personal reflections including a heart attack which nearly killed him while he was giving a Power Point presentation to a group of clergy and medical professionals, about the high cost of health care in America.

 Living Thoughtfully

In addition to providing the expected check list of needed things, such as a living will and an advanced medical directive, Dr. Miller recounts stories where the patient’s wishes, clearly expressed in those documents, is ignored until the doctors decide there is nothing else they can do. Through stories and role-playing he demonstrates the decision points where the family (sometimes inadvertently) give control back to the doctors, even when it goes against the patient’s expressed wishes.

This book is especially helpful for those who are caring for aging parents or who have recently retired and are making important life and end-of-life decisions. Following Dr. Miller’s advice will help avoid “futile care” performed on the grievously ill while planning for a measure of dignity and privacy in death.

For those who prefer video stories or would like to supplement Dr. Miller’s book, in 2007 Mennonite Media produced a DVD resource on this topic which aired on national television, called Embracing Aging: Families Facing ChangeWe also produced a website with much helpful information, stories and links. Find the website here.

Embracing Aging***

How have you addressed end of life issues with your aging parents?
Do you have a story to share of a good dying or one which was not so good?
It is a difficult fact we sometimes ignore—we will all die. In light of that fact, how do you want to go?
Have you communicated your wishes to those who will care for you?

SteveCSteve Carpenter, Director of Development

“I thought you were dead.”

Guest blog post by Glen E. Miller, MD2MillerGlenI was speaking to a group of about 120 people on the cost of healthcare. I was on the third power point slide that graphically illustrated the escalating cost of healthcare. That much I remember.

Without any warning, I suddenly fell over backwards. My wife, Marilyn, sitting nearby, later told me, “I thought you were dead.” My heart had lost its effective rhythm and was no longer pumping blood throughout my body. The heart rhythm—ventricular fibrillation—left my heart a quivering mass, useless as a pump. An EMT (emergency medical technician) fireman, Mark, was at the meeting and with others immediately started CPR. The EMT squad arrived in seven minutes and gave me an electric shock that re-established my heart rhythm.

I had had a cardiac arrest, the most common cause of sudden death. And I beat the odds.

The likelihood of surviving a cardiac arrest with complete recovery is seven percent.  After five days in the hospital, I went home to an active life as before.

But life after that could not be the same. I now lived with the awareness that I could die at any time. And in view of my previous heart troubles, I need to accept that my life will likely be shortened. I am not going to live forever after all. There will be an end. Knowing that is called mortality awareness.

2013ImportOf2011Photos 064We can become aware of our mortality after an illness, accident or the death of a friend—anything that says I am not going to live forever after all. Of course we know that but it’s so easy to ignore this fundamental truth.

I decided it was time to get serious about preparing for my own death. As a doctor, I provided medical care for people who died a good death and those who did not. I was convinced that to make a good death more likely, I needed to proactively prepare.

The awareness of my mortality and the perception of a shortened life expectancy motivated me to pursue productive ways to continue to contribute to my family and to the common good of the larger community. I discussed with my family how much and what kind of medical care I wanted at the end of my life. I decided I want to die at home if it doesn’t create an undue burden for my family and most importantly, I want to create experiences and lasting memories that would enhance the bonding and togetherness of my family. I ended up with a checklist of tasks to be completed that brings peace of mind that I have done what I can to prepare to die well. What I learned became a book Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well, which has just been published by Herald Press this March, 2014. Read the news release here, or you can purchase the book here.

LivingThoughtfully2I welcome you to check it out and also invite you to dialogue with me at the blog I share with a friend and fellow traveler on this journey, Jep Hostetler, author of another Herald Press book, The Joy Factor. Together we offer perspective and ideas on how be more intentional in how we live our lives, and in how we prepare for the ending of our journey.

Here’s a short video introducing the website/blog and ourselves:

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Have you had discussions with your family members about your final wishes? About what to do if you suddenly are incapacitated?

Both Glen and Jep are available and happy to address any group on how to live in such a way that dying becomes a natural part of life. Contact them through their website or through MennoMedia, 800-245-7894.