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By Barbara McDowall

We live in a death denying culture which doesn't encourage conversation about death in general or our own dying in particular.  Some of us live our lives in fear of death.  And thus, our information and understanding of death and dying remains limited.  We aren't encouraged to view death as a natural growth stage in our life journey.  Without that conversation, we miss numerous opportunities to take control of our lives and to live fully present to the miracle of life.  That conversation can also assist our families and friends who are left to make some major decisions on our behalf.

When my father died three years ago, our family came together in a wondrous and cohesive way to provide care for my mother, Marjorie, who has Alzheimer's disease.  She and my father had assigned a Power of Attorney for Health Care that clearly stated their wishes.  The one thing missing was a conversation with their children about their desire for end of life care.

As siblings, we discussed what my mother would want and what we would do when she reached the stage she reached this past week.  We were very clear and unanimous.  We wanted no intervention or heroic measures.  We wanted her to be as comfortable with as little pain as possible as she transitioned.  We believed we knew her well enough to know her dignity and quality of life mattered most to her. 

And now, my mother has reached end stage Alzheimer's and we realize the merits of having a living will along with an open conversation about what each of them wanted at the end stage of their lives.  Sadly, we now find ourselves in disagreement as to the finer details of what that end of life care should look like now that we are there.

Had that conversation taken place three years ago with my mother, we would now be able to move forward confidently, united in support of her wishes.  Instead, we have found ourselves in a challenging time as we process the news of her imminent transition.  We are not on the same page we were on three years ago. 

As emotionally charged as this time is, it has also been rich.  We have had to intentionally respond to each other with love, compassion and understanding almost on a minute by minute basis as we learn to walk together.  We have had to consciously listen and support each other every step of the way in this difficult period of not knowing.

While I am aware some families and mine in particular are not comfortable talking about death or even aware of the benefits of planning for their own death, I am also aware of what I can take away from this difficult time, what I can do in my own life.

I can make the choice to create a living will that I will share with my wife, my children and the rest of my family.  I will encourage conversation about something that is difficult for some folks to deal with.  I don’t want the people I love to be left without any clear direction as to what I want at the end of my life. 

I will take charge of my own celebration of life.  I will plan it as a celebration.  I will consciously think of the pieces that have meaning for me, e.g. music, readings, humour, who will be my MC, food, etc.  I will be clear about where I want to have this celebration.  For me, that will be in the beauty and wonder of nature.

So, I encourage you to reflect on your own death.  Take the time to learn more about living wills ( )

Create a living will and share it with your loved ones.  Let them know how your want to die.  Pre plan your celebration of life, talk with your family about what kind of celebration would best reflect who you are and what it is you want to say.  Have fun creating your own celebration of life.  Involve your loved ones.  Remove the burden from those you leave behind by taking control of how you transition.  What you do today will provide peace of mind not only for you but for your loved ones as well.

Death is inevitable; when we die is, for the most part, unknown.

Authentic Living