Death and dying must be addressed

Because of medical issues involving one of my siblings, I've spent many hours during the past week reading a book titled "When a Loved One Falls Ill" by Gerri and Brian Monaghan. It's a guide to decision-making after receiving a diagnosis of Stage IV metastatic brain cancer.

Yes, it's a book about death and dying. And, yes, I know that's something we just don't seem to want to talk about much — even though it will assuredly happen to all of us.

This particular book, written by a husband-wife team, outlines how to face medical challenges with strength, humor and self-advocacy. It's a good read — a window on the feelings and actions involved with imminent death, but it ends up being about survival. I recommend it.

May I also recommend this? Put down your book — or your garden tools — stop what you're doing for several afternoons or evenings over the next month to focus on the same topic, but in a way that will be even more relevant to you.

"Conversations about Death and Dying," the exceptional series that had many people talking last year, is being repeated and enhanced. It starts Thursday, April 26, and continues through four Tuesdays in May (1:30 to 3 p.m. and 7 to 8:30 p.m.; each presentation is offered twice) at the Smullin Education Center on the Rogue Valley Medical Center campus, 2825 E. Barnett Road. (See

The series launches with author Barbara Karnes giving a presentation called "How the body dies."

On May 1, you'll learn about palliative care from local experts. The May 8 session poses the question, "Where do you want to be when you die?" and then educates on how you can make that happen. On May 15 the topic is "Being with the dying: Family members tell their stories."

And on May 22, more than a dozen facilitators will be available in mini-workshop sessions to help people initiate advance care planning documents.

During this series you will be introduced to "Go Wish Cards," a set of 36 cards that each contain a short statement of things people often cite as being important to them in the last weeks or months of life. It's a simple, interactive tool that may be a conversation-starter for a family reluctant to bring up this often difficult-to-discuss topic.

It's a wild understatement to say this is a power-packed series. The sponsor is COHO, Choosing Options, Honoring Options, a collaboration of local people and groups that encourages conversations about advance care planning.

The sessions are free, though a donation of $10 per session is suggested. Pre-registration not required, except for the mini workshop. Call 541-292-6466 to arrange that.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at or call 541-776-7371, ext. 210.

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