Honoring National Healthcare Decisions Day

Most of the work we do at End of Life Choices California involves talking with people about dying: addressing their fears, providing support with problem solving, helping them access the resources they need to plan for the kind of death they wish for.  Some people might find this kind of work challenging and even distasteful.  But we love it. 

We TALK about it!  So many people have said something to our volunteers along these lines:  “Thank you for your honest and frank conversations with me. No one has been willing to have them and I am so grateful and feel free from worry now.”

 

Talking to family about end of life choices

Another important aspect of our work is helping people do the necessary preparation in case of a medical emergency, or diagnosis of a serious or terminal illness.  This process is called Advance Care Planning.  We teach seminars on this and enjoy educating people on how to plan ahead.  

One thing people often don’t know or think about is this is important for EVERY PERSON OVER THE AGE OF 18.  All adults should have an Advance Directive and have shared it with their important people. 

A Gift to Family

Talking to family about end of life choices

Therefore, in honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day, on April 16, we are devoting the entire month of April to paying attention to these important matters.  Every week we will post a new blog on a different but related topic on Advance Care Planning.  If you read every one, at the end you will be an expert!  

Please join us in these important discussions.  

To find out more about Advance Care Planning on our website, go here.

To find out about volunteering with our organization, go here.

To make a donation to support our important work, go here.

 

What the World Needs Now

As End of Life Choices California completes its second year (first full year!) and we approach this coming new one, I am struck by what an immense undertaking beginning and developing EOLCCA has been. Claudia, Lynne and I have been running this non-profit organization as volunteers, and we continue to be successful in developing an amazing team of Client Advocate Volunteers who are trained and poised to help any Californian seeking information and/or support in their end of life wishes, at no charge.  It is surprising how many people continue to be unable to access the information they need within their own health care systems.  On the flip side, we are grateful for those systems that can and are willing to provide such information and support.

End of Life Choices California

It’s been a difficult year globally.  Everyone is feeling the effects of Covid-19 and the trickle down economic effect of the pandemic. Politics in the US, and elsewhere, has been tumultuous and painful to watch.  One could become overwhelmed and feel undermined by it all.  I think the feelings must be similar to someone who is facing a terminal illness.  A whole life can change in an instant with a terminal diagnosis and the ensuing challenges that come.

Volunteer powered organization

An Act of Love

I am full of gratitude and hope in the work that we do. I believe that being of service to others is what makes the difference in the world.  I googled “quotes about being in service” and there were so many good ones, I couldn’t pick a favorite.  But for me, being of service is an act of love. And I am full of gratitude for our clients who give us the opportunity to engage in these acts of love, to our volunteers who step up to meet the needs of our clients, and our amazing Board of Directors who are donating their time and energy to help us grow in a sustainable way.

 

What the World Needs Now

I awakened this morning with a song in my head and heart that I hadn’t heard in a long time.  I’m sharing it with you now as I think, even though it was recorded in 1966, it is still relevant today and portrays hope for the future. The song reflects my personal belief as to how we are going to overcome the woundedness and grief of this pandemic and of 2020 in general.  There are nuggets of truth and joy and peace and wisdom in the woundedness if we look deeply enough.

What the World Needs Now – Dionne Warwick

I envision a better year for us ahead in 2021. May you find those nuggets of wisdom and peace in your own life.  And, if you feel inspired to help an organization dedicated to being of service to the terminally ill and their families, we would be truly honored to accept your volunteer application or donation of any size.

With gratitude,

Judy

El Día de los Muertos

Dear Readers,

A few years ago, I happened to be visiting Mexico over October 31 – November 2.

As luck would have it, it was the annual event of el Día de los Muertos. I didn’t know much about it but it turned out to be one of the most interesting and amazing cultural, community events I have ever witnessed.

Dia de los Muertos Alter

I was in the small beach town of Sayulita, on the Pacific coast.  On the first day of the celebration, as dusk approached, everyone in the village came out to decorate their yards. Candles were lit, and altars set up with photographs, drawings, and piles of food or bottles of tequila to reflect remembrance and recognition of family members who had died.  We walked over to the community graveyard and it was beautiful with hundreds of candles everywhere and people dressed in colorful costumes and masks.  There was no mourning, only joy and laughter and deep cultural connection.

I think what I found so personally moving while observing this thousand-years-old tradition was how death (and therefore life) were being celebrated with such joy in honoring and remembering loved ones. Everyone was smiling and laughing and playing fun music and inviting us to celebrate with them.

The Day of the Dead originated several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful.

flowers and skull for Dia de los Muertos

I have never forgotten this experience and since then, every year on that day, I too participate.  I assemble in one place pictures of my loved ones who have died, including beloved pets, light a candle and remember them with love and gratitude.  I invite you to do the same if it so moves you.

In our work at EOLCCA, the Day of the Dead resonates so clearly with the dignity, family presence, and peace we wish for our own loved ones, as well as those reaching out to us here in California who are facing terminal illness.  We continue to help our clients and their families navigate the health system in their final months and obtain the end of life care they desire.  We gladly accept donations to help us continue this much needed service.

If (after some normalcy returns to our everyday lives) you ever have the chance to visit Mexico for this one-of-a-kind holiday, I strongly encourage you to go for it!  Here is a link to a National Geographic article that will tell you all about it.

Medical Aid in Living

People seeking MAID are vibrant, courageous, and thoughtful. They know who they are, define the rules of their life, and are clear on their values, including the meaning of living. My last visits with them are typically marked by a sense of clarity and peace.”

 

Benzi M. Kluger, MD, MS, Medical Aid in Living
JAMA Neurol. Published online August 24, 2020

Dear Readers,

We are sharing this excellent article from JAMA Neuro, recently published online, because it is a beautiful tribute from a physician to medical aid in dying (MAID).  For many people there is so much mystery about the process of medical aid in dying.  For some, as with any uncertainty, this can bring anxiety and fear to the table.  As someone who has worked with people facing their dying for nearly ten years, I never cease to be moved at witnessing the grace, courage and honesty that people show when facing end of life decisions. The author of this piece does a beautiful job of describing not only his patient’s journey in accessing medical aid in dying, but also those of others.

I had the honor of speaking to a young woman recently who reached out to End of Life Choices California.  At 35 years old, she is bravely facing a Stage IV breast cancer diagnosis for which she has been told there is no cure.  She is just realizing that she not only needs to plan her life, but needs to plan her death.  We discussed many things, but the one thing that I think brought her comfort was hearing about what it is like to actually die from taking a lethal dose of medication through MAID.  I shared with her that through the many experiences I have had over the years of attending MAID deaths, the overarching feeling I have always observed and experienced is one of peace.  When people who are already dying are given the chance to be in the driver’s seat of their experience, rather than allowing the disease to wreak havoc in their lives and the lives of their loved ones, there is a peacefulness that comes with that.  Family is present, love is shared, goodbyes are heartfelt.  The person dying is able to relax and be held in love as they die.

What more could any of us want, truly?

peaceful river scene

My experience with this is why I have stayed active in the field and why I helped spearhead the formation of End of Life Choices California.  In the article, the physician said the referring physician “had not developed a response to requests for MAID and did not know if she would participate”.  We see this all the time here.  Part of our mission is to provide education to physicians and hospices in order to help eliminate this major barrier to end of life care.  We can help a physician wishing to learn more about MAID by putting him/her in touch with other physicians who are experienced and willing to offer guidance and support.

 

We also encourage all individuals who are thinking about their end of life care and wishes to have a conversation with their primary or specialist physicians NOW.  These conversations take time.  Many physicians are still grappling with how to deal with a MAID request. It is important to identify a physician who will support your end of life choices, whatever they may be, prior to a time you are actually ready to act on those important decisions. Discussions about Advance Care Planning with family and physicians are helpful in this regard. You can find guidance on our website here.

California is making great progress.  The 2019 California Department of Public Health’s annual data report on the use of California’s End of Life Option Act showed that 37% more physicians prescribed MAID than in the previous year.  That gives us hope that we will one day be out of a job.  But for now, we continue to help those who contact EOLCCA looking for support and information about end of life choices.

If you would like to support End of Life Choices California’s work, please make a donation.  We are very grateful for gifts of all sizes.  Thank you.

 

Our Favorite Music

Dear Friends, 

In this continuing and unprecedented time of disruption and uncertainty, we wanted to share some of our favorite music with you.  Music has been known for centuries to be a healing balm for the heart and soul in times of need, just as it can be uplifting and joyous in times of celebration.  A 2014 article from Psychology Today discusses, “Does Music Have Healing Powers?” and yes, we know it does.  

Calming, Inspiring, Uplifting

I asked our board members and volunteers to send me their favorite pieces which they find calming and inspiring or uplifting, and below are the offerings I received.  We hope you find them to be enjoyable, healing and supportive to you and possibly anyone sharing space with you.

We are still here for you and others

In the meantime, remember that EOLCCA is still here for you or any friend or family member who might currently need support facing end-of-life decisions.  Lately, in addition to spending a lot more time on the phone with our clients seeking EOL support, we have been helping people understand how to lay out their end-of-life wishes with an Advance Directive (Assigning Healthcare Proxy and Living Will).  Here is a link to our website to find information about these matters.  Please call or email if we can be of assistance in any way.

To please, enjoy some of our favorite healing music, perhaps while filling out or updating your Advance Directive!  We wish you and your loved ones peace, hope and health.

Our music selections

Two last things: 

While not music, one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, crafts words that sound like music and so I wanted to share an interview with her by Krista Tippets from On Being “Poetry for Tumultuous Times”.  It is a delightful interview and sure to warm your heart. 

When you load the page, you have to scroll down a bit and find the interview with Ms. Oliver.

Interview with Krista Tippets at: onbeing.org

Poem

And another poem to end with, and blessings to all…

For the Interim Time 

When near the end of day, life has drained
Out of light, and it is too soon
For the mind of night to have darkened things,

No place looks like itself, loss of outline
Makes everything look strangely in-between,
Unsure of what has been, or what might come.

In this wan light, even trees seem groundless.
In a while it will be night, but nothing
Here seems TO believe the relief of dark.

You are in this time of the interim
Where everything seems withheld.

The path you took to get here has washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.

“The old is not old enough to have died away
The new is still too young to be born.”

 

You cannot lay claim to anything;
In this place of dusk,
Your eyes are blurred;
And there is no mirror.

Everyone else has lost sight of your heart
And you can see nowhere to put your trust;
You know you have to make your own way through.

As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow your confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might come free
From all you have outgrown.

What is being transfigured here is your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.

From  To Bless the Space Between Us”  by John O’Donohue