It’s January, the month of New Year resolutions and new beginnings. It’s also the month of leaving, with the highest death rate in the US (followed by February, December and March). On December 30 I turned the radio on and caught Diane Rehm interviewing Katy Butler, author of Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Death. Katy wrote the book in response to the deaths, and the decisions made preceding the deaths of first her father then her mother. Memories of my mother’s death just 2 years ago at age 90 quickly resurfaced. I began to consider the kind of conversation I should be having with my husband’s 89 year old mother.
According to Butler, “I think we need to start these conversations years earlier than we are, and we need to regard them as emotional and spiritual conversations, not conversations just about, I don't want to be plugged into machines, or I don't want a pacemaker.” Legal documents – living wills and durable power of attorney - important and helpful as they are, can never anticipate every situation nor provide specific direction to family members in times of conflicting priorities. So many times I have seen and been part of a cycle of interaction focused on “What’s the matter?” For someone in declining health there is so much to pay attention to that we often skip the conversation about “What matters?” “What matters” is about the soul, not about flatness of an EEG line.
As UUs we talk about the inherent worth and dignity of each person, and so I was drawn to the way The Conversation Project seems to support each of us, young and old, those near death’s door as well as those seemingly far away, in providing a structure for having conversations about our values and priorities. Check it out, share it, and initiate “The Conversation” with your family and friends.
Lifespan Faith Development Consultant, St. Lawrence and Ohio Meadville Districts