“in lieu of flowers”- books to help us die with dignity

Unfortunately, death can be complicated. For some of us, a life-threatening or terminal health situation forces us to face death and if we’re wise, to prepare ourselves and our family . In other cases, unprepared families are left to deal with it while also grieving.

Call me weird, but I enjoy reading obituaries because I enjoy learning about people. Some obits revel in listing the person’s achievements-education degrees, military service medals, business positions, public and volunteer service recognition;descriptions of  exotic travel, unique hobbies, special interests, creative pursuits and talents. 

One of my favorite obits was different; simple, yet revealing a wealth of information about a man known simply as Jim (edited slightly for privacy) 

“Jim, who died at 90 years old, was born on Valentine’s Day. He grew up on a farm,  joined the Army, and  went to a state teacher’s college on the GI Bill.

There he met his wife, and they had 2 children and 5 grandchildren. He earned a master’s degree and spent his professional life as a teacher of math, science, and social studies to elementary students. After retirement, he continued working as a tutor. 

Jim enjoyed backyard gardening, walking to the library, math problems, weather reports and local high school sports. Jim always put the needs of others before himself. 

In lieu of flowers please plant a flower, a tree, or even a vegetable garden. Jim would really like that.”

Despite his obituary’s simplicity, I feel like I knew Jim, he was someone I would have liked, even having as a neighbor. Obits don’t have to be complicated and fancy, and neither does life, if Jim is any proof. 

Unfortunately, death can be complicated. For some of us, a life-threatening or terminal health situation forces us to face death and if we’re wise, to prepare ourselves and our family . In other cases, unprepared families are left to deal with it while also grieving.

I have reviewed these two books that help us and our families make dying and death less arduous than it inevitably is. They cover the practical, financial, and social aspects of dying, as well as the medical, emotional, and spiritual aspects. Read them before you need them-because we all need them eventually. 

"To every thing there is a season" Bible verse with fall color leaves

Living life, facing death-a review of A Beginner’s Guide to the End

Even as a physician, I was surprised at the claim that only 10% to 20% of us will die without warning. The rest of us will know we have something that will likely take our life. And even if we don’t, we all know we will die eventually, although we tend to think and act as if it’s a well kept secret, and maybe it is.

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Dying with Ease- a book review

Dr. Spiess doesn’t suggest that confronted with terminal illness we refuse treatment and give up. He advocates thinking about and planning for the dying process long before we develop an illness that might be fatal.

Keep reading

exploring the HEART of health

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

(This post and the ones linked to contain affiliate links that may pay a small commission to this blog, while you pay nothing extra. Quite a deal. )

Thanks, Dr. Aletha

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Dying with Ease- a book review

Dr. Spiess doesn’t suggest that confronted with terminal illness we refuse treatment and give up. He advocates thinking about and planning for the dying process long before we develop an illness that might be fatal.

This is at least the fouth book about death I have reviewed. I didn’t plan to, but it just happened. Maybe because of what Dr. Atul Gawande wrote in his book Being Mortal, another book I reviewed.

Death may be the enemy, but it is also the natural order of things.

Atul Gawande, M.D.

In this instance, I was approached by the publisher , FSB Associates, asking if I would review the book, and offered a complimentary copy. Otherwise, I was not compensated for my review. The book links in this post are affiliate links which may help support this blog financially.

Dying with Ease by Jeff Spiess, M.D.

A Compassionate Guide for Making Wiser End-of-Life Decisions
Dying with East-a book

In the introduction, author Dr. Jeff Spiess explains his purpose for writing this book.

my primary hope is for you, dear reader, to become more informed and at peace regarding your own dying.

Jeff Spiess, M.D.

Dr. Spiess doesn’t suggest that confronted with terminal illness we refuse treatment and give up. He advocates thinking about and planning for the dying process long before we develop an illness that might be fatal.

His book reviews the challenges of the dying process, and guides us in making choices that make it smoother and with ease.

Let’s review the titles of each chapter with a brief description of what each contains.

1. Dying in America

Here he proposes a definition for what is a “good death”; it’s one that matches the wishes of the dying person and their family.

2. I’m Going to Die? What Can I Do?

In this chapter he explains Advance Care Planning

  • Advanced Directives
  • Durable power of attorney for healthcare
  • Do Not Resuscitate-DNR
  • Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment
  • Artificial Nutrition and Hydration

3. Hospice

In this chapter he reviews the history of hospice care care and explains the basics of palliative (rather than curative) care

4. Suffering

Most dying persons want to minimize suffering so Dr. Spiess lists ways to do so, some of which are controversial and even illegal in some states.

  • Palliative sedation
  • Voluntary stopping eating / drinking
  • medical aid in dying
  • voluntary euthanasia

5. It’s My Life, Isn’t It?

Here he discussed autonomy , bioethics, and the legal system using past high profile cases as illustrations, those being

  • Karen Ann Quinlan
  • Brittnany Maynard
  • Theresa Schiavo
"To every thing there is a season" Bible verse with fall color leaves
from Ecclesiastes 3

the time of peril, what St. John of the Cross called the “dark night of the soul,” … both tests the validity of one’s faith and initiates that essential process of incarnation

page 109

6. What’s God Got to Do With It?

Here he talks about “Religion, Spirituality, and the End of Life. He finds many people turn to religion when faced with death and sometimes that is not an altogether positive experience. However, he denies being anti-religion saying,

many find religious traditions to be sources of profound comfort and meaning. …it has been so for many friends, relatives, and patients, and also because it is true for me.

page 109

He finds it essential to differentiate religion as primarily a matter of intellectual assent to doctrines and beliefs, or whether the essense of a person’s faith has become understood and embodied in their being.

photo by DJ Thomas, Lightstock.com

7. What Does It Feel Like to Die?

In this chapter he invites the reader to do a guided exercise to encounter the inner experience of dying. Putting pen to paper you will answer a series of questions about your life. Then you review it as you finish reading the chapter. I did the exercise and found it enlightening and sobering.

8. Envisioning Your Own Death

Here he expands on the idea of Advanced Care Planning introduced in chapter 2. He adds such steps as

  • Know the rules (insurance coverage)
  • Disposition of your body
  • Disposition of “stuff”, making a will
woman sitting in a cemetery
photo from the Lightstock.com collection, an affiliate link

9. What’s It All About, Anyway?

Dr. Spiess concludes with a true story about a wife’s journey to finding meaning after her young husband’s unexpected death.

living well increases the likelihood of dying well

page 161

Conclusion

After the obligatory Acknowledgments this book has

  • Discussion Questions which seem most appropriate for personal reflection . There is one question based on each chapter.
  • Notes, which are chapter specific
  • An extensive Bibliography
  • An Index
  • Brief Author bio

Jeff Spiess, M.D.

Dr. Jeff Spiess

Dr. Spiess started in medicine as an oncologist, cancer specialist, then transitioned into palliative and end-of-life care as director of a hospice. His website, https://drjeffspiess.com/, offers a complete bio, audio interviews, his blog posts, social media links, and form to join his email list.

exploring the HEART of life and death

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

Dr. Aletha

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