What do I really want to do before I die: write one more story, see one more Broadway play, forgive my mother, forgive myself…? These are the kinds of questions that Lower Cape Fear Hospice and LifeCareCenter is asking us about end-of-life issues through an upcoming series they will hold called “Begin the Conversation.”
When graffiti artist and urban planner Candy Chang lost a loved one, she struggled to regain her balance, and friends helped her turn the side of an abandoned house in New Orleans into a giant chalkboard. Chang stenciled it with “Before I die, I want to…” which encouraged people to begin the conversation about advance-care planning with this upbeat “Bucket List” approach.
“Death gets a bad rap,” Kimberly Paul, vice-president of Lower Cape Fear Hospice Communications and Outreach, says. “Whether we’re faced with a tragic accident or a life-threatening illness, we have a choice in how the dying process will unfold—whether it will be a dark experience or a peaceful one.”
To encourage a positive choice, hospice has partnered with Chang and assembled giant octagon-shaped chalkboards stenciled with “Before I Die, I Want To…” with plenty of space to fill in the blanks. Last month these chalkboards were on the campus of Cape Fear Community College, thanks to its public information officer, David Hardin. Students had the boards completely chalked in by the end of the first day. “It was a great fit for our campus,” Hardin notes.
This month Mike Vaccaro, announcer for UNCW men’s basketball team, will help assemble the chalkboards around a tree outside Trask Coliseum. Visitors and students alike will have an opportunity to express their bucket-list wishes in a safe public space.
“When you walk on a campus and hear students engaged in a conversation about death and dying,” “it’s pretty awesome.” Paul says. Thirteen years into hospice work, I am grateful that as I learn more about dying, I learn more about how I want to live my life: more nobly, take more risks, know that sometimes failure is good. I don’t want to be sad that it’s over. I want to be happy that it happened. I want my memorial service party before I die!”
Sixty percent of people who enter hospice have never had a conversation about facing the end of their lives. Filling out the paperwork is not enough. Unless a person is clear about exactly what is expected in the dying process, responsible parties and loved ones cannot know how to respond to the questions of health-care providers.
“I’m passionate about advanced care planning,” Paul says, “and I want people to have what they want at the end of their lives. I want people to make plans while they’re healthy before they face a major illness or loss of function. We have a responsibility to tell our patients, ‘These are your options, but these are the consequences.’”
On Friday, November 9th Lower Cape Fear Hospice and LifeCareCenter and South East Area Health Educational Center will sponsor a clinical conference, “Ready or Not, Here They Come: Providing Comprehensive Healthcare to Baby Boomers and Beyond.” This meeting will be held at the beautiful Hilton Wilmington Riverside from 8:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. Health care providers can earn six Continuing Education credits. The cost is $100, and breakfast, lunch and bucket- list opportunities will be served.
Even Wilmington’s darling humorist, writer Celia Rivenbark, will present “Aging in North Carolina.” Medical providers will speak on a variety of important issues which include numerous doctors, such as Birgit Arb, Tammy McDonald, Timothy Oster, Karen Reichow and Mary Rudyk. To register, go to www.seahec.net or call Kimberly Paul at 910-612-9548.
For more information about advanced care planning and hospice, go to www.begintheconversation.org, www.hospiceandlifecarecenter.org, or call LCF Hospice at 910-754-5356.