(The next session will be about how our tradition helps with aging and end of life issues. It will take place on Sunday, April 3 after worship. Please bring a brown bag lunch.)
Thirty-six of us gathered over a brown bag lunch in the Social Hall after worship on Sunday, March 6, for the first session of the discussion series on Approaching the End of Life. Bob Schneider used the articles posted in connection with the February 18 and March 4 E-pistles to explain the nature and purpose of the series and highlight its “expected learning outcomes.” He suggested that the following guidelines would help make the discussion series a “safe space for sharing and learning”:
• It takes all of us to make this a safe space.
• These conversations are confidential.
• Information and perspectives can be shared but there are no “right” or “wrong” answers.
• The goals include sharing and learning but not reaching a consensus.
• Use “I” statements and do not try to talk for or “correct” others.
• No one should feel expected or forced to talk but everyone should feel free to.
• Before you talk again, try to make sure all others have had a chance to talk first.
We broke into small groups to begin the conversation by introducing ourselves and sharing what brought us to the series and what we would like to get out of it. Among the comments made were that people came to share their personal and professional experiences, because they have aging parents or have experienced the recent loss of loved ones of all ages, expected and unexpected; because they realize that they are now the “older generation;” because they are wondering who will be there for them at the end of their life? They hope to become more comfortable talking about the end of life; to learn how to plan for it, for their own and their children’s sakes; to understand how faith can help us think about and face death; to help young people understand death; to be able to talk with family about the end of life; to encourage others at Old First to reach out to the elderly and those approaching the end of their lives.
Back in the large group, we identified the many ways in which we are made aware of death, from media coverage to literature to music to the church’s liturgical seasons to professional and personal encounters. Given all that exposure, we asked how many in the room thought they were well prepared for the end of life. Fewer than 10%, it turned out, felt prepared. So we discussed the barriers to thinking about and preparing for death. They include: fear; denial; pain; sadness; feeling vulnerable; feeling like a failure; a sense of doom; cultural values; superstition/jinx/taboo; preparing is too complicated; I’m too young to think about; lack of exposure as a child; lack of positive role models.
Delilah Marrow talked about her approach to living to the fullest before the end of life. She led us through a personal assessment using these questions:
• Where do you see yourself on life’s journey?
• What is something you love, love, love, doing—things that bring you joy?
• How often do you leave your living space?
• Does relocating or downsizing really excite you or does the thought terrify or depress you?
• Do you ever think about where to celebrate your 100th birthday or what you would like to do?
She then shared her suggestions for aging well:
• Be your own advocate
• Teach people how to respect you
• Ask for what you want and/or need
• Do not accept less than
• Interrupt “put downs”
• Speak your opinion even if it is not the most popular—(It is OKAY)
And her advice to:
PREPARE A SURVIVOR’S KIT—include all important documents and talk about what you want with your family and close friends
o Power of Attorney
o Health Care Directive
o All insurance documents
o Living Will & Last will & Testament
o Financial Documents
o Up-to-date list of Healthcare professionals
o Draft of your Obituary
She closed with the poem “Live Each Day to the Fullest” by S. H. Payer:
Live each day to the fullest.
Get the most from each hour, each day, and each age of your life.
Then you can look forward with confidence, and back without regrets.
Be yourself, but be your best self.
Dare to be different and follow your own star.
Don’t be afraid to be happy and enjoy what is beautiful.
Love with all your heart and soul. Believe that those you love, love you.
When you are faced with decision, make that decision as wisely as possible, then forget it.
The moment of absolute certainty never arrives.
Above all, remember that God helps those who help themselves.
Act as if everything depended on you and pray as if everything depended on God.
The session closed with Pastor Michael introducing the second session of the series, to be held from 12:30 to 2 on Sunday, April 3. He asked that in preparation for our discussion of “what faith offers to help with aging and death” we identify and bring to the session a resource from our faith that has proved helpful in thinking about the end of life.
This series is open to all. Each session will begin with a summary of previous sessions. No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey—whatever age you are—this series is open to you.