“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.

Keep reading

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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

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Thanks, Dr. Aletha

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Why you should get ready to die while you live -a book review

“The reason obituaries are so dull to read is that they are so dull to write and that’s precisely why I’m writing my own: To save my family the drudgery in an otherwise stressful time.”

Besides attending church on Sundays, I routinely read the local Sunday newspaper. I never miss the comics, Ask Amy advice column, restaurant reviews, and the obituaries. Sometimes I find an obit of someone I know or know of. But even if I don’t, I usually read one or two.

Sometimes the person’s life is so remarkable I’m surprised I’d never heard of them. Sometimes it’s so intriguing I wish I had known them. That is the case with a recent one, particularly because it was written by the deceased man himself.

I’m sharing this obituary with you with names deleted to protect privacy and some sections paraphrased. I think you will agree this is a man worth knowing.

David B.

“The reason obituaries are so dull to read is that they are so dull to write and that’s precisely why I’m writing my own: To save my family the drudgery in an otherwise stressful time. Following the standard format of obits I’ll start with I was born in 1948. I enjoyed being an only child until my two sisters came along. After that I learned to be an only child with two sisters.

I have to stop here and mention that when my kidneys failed in my forties, my youngest sister unselfishly agreed to transplant one of hers. When it came time much later for another transplant my older sister conveniently developed cancer rendering her ineligible. Fortunately our son jumped at the chance and eagerly agreed to step up for which I was profoundly grateful.”

After high school he “moved on to blast my way through a five year architectural degree in only seven years.” He co-founded an architectural firm which grew into one of the ten largest firms in the U.S. for several years.

“I’m kind of proud of that.”

Following retirement he served as Vice-President of the national board of the American Kidney Fund as well as President of the local chapter. He was President of the state chapter of an architects institute and served on the boards of local arts commissions.

“There is some other stuff but these are the highlights.”

He admitted that the best thing he did was marrying his wife.

“I loved her dearly. She was my lover, partner, confidant and best friend. If not for her, I would have been writing this many years earlier.”

Together they had two wonderful daughters. One is a physcian and the other “spends most of her time helping keep women out of prison”. About his son he pined , “He has yet to have any kids which is regrettable because the gene pool would be greatly improved by his contribution.”

“I guess all that’s left is to say goodbye to the many friends I’ve made over the last seven decades. I’ve kept up with some but lost track of many. Suffice to say that if I wasn’t dead, I’d miss them all.”

Not surprisingly, he requested that in lieu of flowers friends consider donations to two local non-profits-a soup kitchen/food bank and an organization that helps children of incarcerated parents.

assemble a "when I die" file
a screenshot from the book

How to prepare for the end

I suspect that David prepared for death in other ways besides writing his obituary. He probably wrote a will, arranged burial or cremation, and closed his social media accounts. He likely had a living will or health care proxy. He sounds like a man who navigated his life well and managed his death equally well.

Planning for death seems straight forward but there are numerous details that most of us will miss without help. That’s why I reviewed and recommend a book that walks us through the process.

The book consists of 5 sections that mimic the progression from life to illness to death. 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. The sections are

  • PLANNING AHEAD
  • DEALING WITH ILLNESS
  • HELP ALONG THE WAY
  • WHEN DEATH IS CLOSE
  • AFTER
Hazards of caregiving

Chapter titles offer discussion about issues such as

  • Yes, There’s Paperwork.
  • Can I Afford to Die?
  • I’m Sick
  • Love, Sex, and Relationships
  • Hospital Hacks
  • Care for the Caregiver
  • It’s Your Body and Your Funeral
  • Grief
  • How to write a Eulogy and an Obituary
  • Celebrating a Life
REmember me-collections and keepsakes
I think David’s family has many precious memories of his life.

We should all read this book

As much as I hope you don’t need it right now, unfortunately you do need it right now. So whatever stage of living, or dying, you or a loved one may be in, you will find something helpful here.

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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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