Passover and Easter at a time of “non-essential” faith?

The holiest days on the Christian calendar and the commemoration of Passover are upon us, and they come at a time when government has placed serious obstacles in the paths of those wishing to celebrate them. Indeed Jesus and his twelve disciples could not break bread for the Pasch in an upper room in most states without violating the government’s ban on gatherings of ten or more. Our civil leaders have determined that religious services and organizations are non-essential.

A month ago it was understandable that our nation’s faith leaders cooperated with governmental recommendations to contain the spread of the coronavirus, even if it meant the cancellation of worship services, the shuttering of their sanctuaries and schools, and their own sequestering at home. At that time where projected death tolls in the 1-2 million range presaged an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe, religious leaders had ample reason to follow, not challenge, the mandates of federal, state and local authorities, even if that meant the surrender of the sabbath.

But it is time to revisit this question. What was thought to be a short-term, temporary arrangement has morphed into something more like an indefinite moratorium on both communal worship and the resumption of faith-based social services. This development comes at a time when people of all faiths are battling fears, contemplating life and death questions, and very significantly, facing the sudden onset of financial insecurity. Our elder citizens are acutely confronted with these adversities. Further, the first wave of ten million jobless Americans will be joined by potentially larger cohorts in the weeks ahead. If faith was central to how people processed extraordinary reversals of fortune and uncertain futures, it is doubly so now. While some religious leaders and groups have found creative ways to address the needs of their faithful, they seem to be the exception, not the rule.

You don’t have to contract the coronavirus to be afflicted by it. The cries of the elderly poor, homeless, disabled and other vulnerable populations who are experiencing real hardship now are emerging. Unfortunately, faith-based charities where the needy once sought refuge are operating on skeletal staffs and providing scaled-back services. Soup kitchens are now grab and go, home visits to shut-ins have stopped, donated clothing and goods distribution centers have shut-down, and nearly all forms of outreach to the 2 million elderly living in long-term care communities are prohibited.

As it stands now, on Easter Sunday in the state of Virginia, it would be a criminal offense for my parish priest to celebrate a public Mass, and the members of my family could be arrested if we volunteered to feed the hungry at a local soup kitchen afterwards. How are such punitive measures good public policy? Religious leaders are just as capable and creative in figuring out how to feed their sheep without endangering public health, just as grocers and restaurateurs have been to feed theirs.

America needs our priests, ministers, imams and rabbis and those inspired by them back in action. Our country’s ideals are honored during a time of crisis when science and faith co-exist and government gives deference to the proper faculties of each. Politicians would be well-advised to revisit the tight restrictions they have placed on communities of worship and faith-based charities so that these “armies of compassion” are unleashed to address the social welfare needs of citizens in this time of economic distress and spiritual turmoil.

Easter proclaims the triumph of body and soul, of life over death. Politicians who make no accommodation for the free exercise of religion in these times, even with appropriate public health precautions in place, and who discount the importance of faith-based organizations in governmental efforts to alleviate human suffering, need to explain this discriminatory treatment.

Our country’s religious leaders and their faith-based friends are needed on the front lines alongside the nurses, police officers, grocers and others to cope with the coronavirus, treat its victims, and deal with the real symptoms of financial and social malaise afflicting virtually every household in the country, particularly our elderly.

If our shepherds do not consider themselves essential and re-assert themselves in the public square soon – even if that means risking their lives or countenancing conflict with civil authorities – then they may not have to worry about social distancing for future Easter services held in churches with empty pews.

America can’t afford a “panic-demic”

During their youth America’s elderly watched their parents cope with the Great Depression and its aftermath. They vividly remember the poorhouses, breadlines, suicides and social pathologies, rampant unemployment and financial turmoil of that era. The Social Security checks they now receive originated because of the national scandal of old-age poverty in the 1930’s.

Today’s elderly who grew up intimately aware of what their parents endured do not want the precautions now in place to protect them from the coronavirus to possibly trigger similarly dire economic circumstances. They don’t want to burden their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. These seniors worked too hard to watch the country they helped build experience the tragic social consequences, including the destitution of the elderly poor, that their parents knew a lifetime ago.

And yet, each day that grim possibility seems less remote as America’s virtual shutdown of business, travel, education, and civic life continues without an end in sight. While the sensible and necessary public health measures instituted nationwide were justified at the time they were instituted, it appears there was not sufficient attention given to the economic and social consequences that inevitably would ensue if the economy were to enter a downward spiral because of them. That is particularly true of the sweeping steps many governors have taken that have the unintended consequence of devastating household incomes or job opportunities.

Most of us do not know any among our family and friends who has the virus or died from it, but we can instantly identify loved ones who already are paying a steep price, or soon will, for the sudden collapse in commerce. Sadly, as with any marketplace meltdown, the poor, particularly the elderly poor and disabled, will bear the brunt of the suffering.

Fortunately, momentum is building for a recalibration of strategy that strikes a reasonable balancing of national interests. This new approach protects the elderly, disabled and those with chronic illness, while simultaneously performing CPR on the national economy to avert a humanitarian crisis. To some, the mere thought of changing course and softening public health restrictions triggers panic. To others, anything less than a full return to work by America a week from now prompts a similar response.

America can’t afford a “panic-demic.” Blue states can’t spar with red states, and the presidential candidates can’t politicize the important questions of what precautions and recovery steps are necessary. National unity is needed so that a calm, reasonable, good-faith examination of all of the health and welfare factors can occur. Common-sense public health measures can and should remain in effect as the great majority of people get back to work while their jobs are still there.

Under this re-balancing of interests, the preservation of life and the minimalization of suffering would continue as primary goals, recognizing that loss of life, both from the coronavirus and a possible global recession, is inevitable and must be mitigated to the fullest extent possible. This re-balancing of interests would also recognize that elders in America have as large a stake in a healthy economy as they do in a coronavirus-free world.

It would be tragic irony if our elderly survive this outbreak of deadly influenza only to find themselves facing another grave peril – a world where their savings have virtually vanished, their fixed-incomes have lost buying power, and their children and grandchildren cannot support them because of their own financial predicaments.

A pandemic doesn’t have to become a panic-demic. Cool heads must prevail while strategies are adjusted to reflect current realities. Our senior citizens want bright futures for their progeny and country they love. They will be asked to sacrifice much in the months ahead for the good of the country. The members of the “greatest generation” and their children have done this before, and they will bravely do this again.

National Interest in Living Wills Surges as America Responds to COVID-19

WASHINGTON and TALLAHASSEE, Fla., March 24, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — The coronavirus has brought a new urgency to those mulling advance care planning.  The nonprofit Aging with Dignity, which provides the most widely used advance directive in the country, reports a tenfold increase in requests for Five Wishes from individuals since the outbreak took hold.

Its Five Wishes document allows people to outline what medical treatment they would want if they are no longer able to convey their wishes in a health crisis. Five Wishes has provided more than 37 million documents and resources over the past 20 years.  Available in 29 languages, the tools are used by individuals and families, as well as healthcare providers, employers, places of worship, business, and other communities.

“We’re hearing from families that they want to be prepared,” said Aging with Dignity President Paul Malley. “Many are using this time, as families are gathered together and staying home, to talk about what matters most to them. Rather than being resigned to feeling helpless about the coronavirus and the danger a loved one may face, they are taking action to be prepared. And they’re telling us it’s a very positive experience. They’re having great talks with the people who are closest to them about the things that matter most.”

Five Wishes communicates what a person would want in case of a health crisis. It gives a person a voice in how they are cared for and what medical treatment they receive if they become seriously ill and are no longer able to speak for themselves. It is used to name a healthcare agent, or the person trusted to make healthcare decisions, and to give detailed instructions on life support treatment.   Those who use Five Wishes say it is easy to use and understand, and they appreciate its emphasis on topics like comfort, dignity, family relationships, and spirituality.

Five Wishes is the national advance care planning program of the non-profit organization Aging with Dignity. Aging with Dignity’s founder and CEO Jim Towey’s thoughts on the coronavirus were featured in The Washington Post this past weekend and can be accessed here.

More information: www.fivewishes.org

Contact:  Paul Malley
p.malley@agingwithdignity.org
850-681-2010, Ext. 103

SOURCE Five Wishes

The isolation of social distancing is a way of life for many elderly Americans

If you are a little depressed after spending a few days at home in isolation while you ride out the coronavirus crisis, you now know how millions of elderly people across the United States feel every day. For them, social distancing is a way of life. So many have no visitors, nothing to look forward to and no means to buffer any new financial hardships.

While our moral sensitivities have built up immunity to the numbing statistics on elderly isolation and incapacitation, they still bear repeating. Nearly 6 millionAmericans age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, and approximately 120,000 are likely to die of it this year. More than 2 million people live in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. For women who typically outlive their spouses by several years, a stay in a long-term-care center can have the feel of solitary confinement. Men age 75 and older have the highest likelihood of suicide of any demographic group.

When Mother Teresa was asked to name the worst disease she had ever seen, some expected that she might say leprosy or AIDS. But no, she said it was loneliness — that terrible feeling of being unloved, unwanted and forgotten. This disease afflicts more than the lives of elderly shut-ins and those who can no longer age in place. It also touches upon the many seniors whose immediate family and other relatives maintain little or no contact with them.

What may make matters worse for this long-suffering population is that it could face a societal backlash over the safety measures being put in place to slow the pace of infections. The “Boomer Remover” slur that trended on Twitter recently may have been shared in jest, but underlying it was a resentment over the sacrifices being demanded of all for the sake of the old and very old among us. Canceled sporting events and workplace-routine disruptions are one thing, but layoffs, foreclosures, small-business bankruptcies and depleted personal savings are another. For the great majority of Americans who have not felt that their lives are threatened by the coronavirus, there may be a temptation to blame the country’s most vulnerable for the adverse consequences owing to the extreme measures now in place.

From its founding, America has nurtured a covenant among the generations. Now is a good time to renew it. Our elders cared for us when we were dependent upon them. They helped build the society and economy we now enjoy and also inculcated the work ethic and values that will undergird the country’s upcoming recovery efforts. More than ever, we should cherish their lives and mobilize across generations in an effort to combat the disease of loneliness that will linger long after a vaccine is found and the covid-19 threat recedes.

As the public health precautions we’re living with demonstrate, every life is precious. The elderly and chronically ill among us are not burdens but gifts. It is not enough to simply want to keep them alive. We must help them live. Their God-given human dignity, and the time-honored command to honor our mothers and fathers, demands nothing less.

Today when you are lonely, resolve to make a plan to alleviate the loneliness of someone whose isolation will not end when the virus subsides. When you are anxious about the future, say a prayer for those who feel they have no hope. Turn your social distancing into an opportunity to understand and relieve the suffering of our brothers and sisters for whom your temporary discomfort is a permanent state of affairs.

Jim Towey is founder and CEO of Aging with Dignity, a nonprofit with offices in Washington and Tallahassee. He was legal counsel to Mother Teresa of Calcutta for 12 years, and he directed the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush.

This post was originally published in The Washington Post on March 21, 2020. It is posted here with permission from author.

Welcome to my blog!

I founded Aging with Dignity 24 years ago because I believe the right to age with dignity is conferred by God, not government, and must be respected and protected.

Why do I say that?  The creation story in the first book of the Bible makes this clear:  “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he crated them” (Genesis 1:27).  Isaiah the great prophet writes, “See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name.” And Christian Scripture places on the lips of the angel Gabriel in announcing the conception of Jesus to Mary, his mother, the words, “Great will be His dignity.”

Yes, great is our dignity because by God’s favor we are endowed with this inalienable majesty which adheres to our very being and can never be taken away – not by sickness or advanced age or the efforts of others or ourselves to degrade it.   The mark of God on our soul is indelible.

So each of us has a right to age with dignity, and also, a duty to safeguard and protect this right from the many systems and attitudes that disregard God and God’s creative majesty.  Such forces seek to reduce human beings to merely biological matter as if mere subjects of science, as if God does not exist.  This helps explain why our own country often pushes to the margins of society the elderly poor, the handicapped and the mentally ill, as if their lives are less valuable or worthy of protection.

Aging with Dignity was founded at the urging of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  I had the privilege to work for her for 12 years as legal counsel and volunteer.  In fact Mother Teresa wrote me a letter in support of the non-profit I established and urged me “to defend and protect life, the most beautiful gift of God and to bring God’s love and compassion to the elderly poor.”  She added, “There are among us so many who are poor and elderly, in need of our understanding, respect, love and compassion, especially if they are sick, handicapped, helpless or alone.”  She closed by asking God to bless the work of Aging with Dignity.

And God surely has!  The Five Wishes advance directive I created has a circulation of over 37 million copies and is available in 29 languages, and is changing the way Americans plan for, talk about and receive end-of-life care.  Aging with Dignity receives no funding from government or from any of the health care players.  We are an advocate for patients and their families, and particularly for those at the end of life who are especially vulnerable.

If you are reading this, then consider yourself part of the Aging with Dignity family.  Tens of millions of Americans now benefit from the work we do, and soon we will have a membership organization in place to be an even more impactful advocate.  Mother Teresa expects nothing less!

Jim Towey

Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Simple Gifts

Patricia Battles
Partner Relations Coordinator

“’Tis the gift to be simple / ‘Tis the gift to be free / ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be.”

Elder Joseph Brackett Jr., a Shaker church leader, wrote these lyrics and the familiar tune that accompanies them in 1848. His tune would later be called Simple Gifts and would become an American folk standard, arranged by numerous composers, and appreciated by the religious and secular around the world.

Taking a page from Elder Brackett’s book, the theme of my family’s past holiday season was simplicity. For us, the end of 2019 was marked by lots of what I call “good stress” and “bad stress”: multiple unanticipated deaths in the family, marriages, breakups, buying new homes, job loss and, for myself, finishing a grueling graduate program that had nearly broken me many times over. Because we all were experiencing situations that were so emotionally complex and even more costly, we decided we would not have a “Consumerist Christmas” this year and would scale down gift-giving big time.

Admittedly, this probably would be harder to pull off if there were more younger people around. Picture it: Orlando, Florida, 1997. My mother tells 7-year old me, “No, you cannot start playing with the revolutionary, digital Tamagachi pet that you already have in your hand and you’ve been begging for for months and that all your friends have already been bragging about.” Could you imagine the teenage rage this could cause today with new iPhones and social media? Oh, the angst!!

Our solution: Presents had to be below a certain price point and, if they were gadgets or digital gifts, would be given to the recipient only after our designated “family time” on Christmas Day.
Since there was only one young child in attendance (my lovely Laina, the 5-year old diva-in-training and the light of my life) we easily avoided the cataclysm of teenage Christmas FOMO. Much like I had suspected, Laina was more than pleased with her gifts from mommy: the board games Candy Land and Chutes & Ladders.

Why is this important? Well, what mommy didn’t suspect was that these simple, children’s games would become everyone’s favorite gift that Christmas. My grandmother, my mother, myself, and my child, along with all of our siblings and extended family were eager to shout “I got next!” and have their chance to win the race towards Candy Castle. That encouraged a side game of dominoes, and a third game of Tonk all happening at once. That’s 4 generations, excited to put the phones down, to congregate, and to legitimately enjoy each other’s company.

We did a lot of good talking, actually. My grandmother had just lost her cousin and her aunt within a week, and on Christmas Day we couldn’t help but to feel their absence acutely. Still, we laughed as I got yet another pesky Chute, and talked about recipes that my great aunt always cooked for Christmas. These were recipes that only she was allowed to make, because no one else could smoke a turkey or make deviled eggs and really “put their foot in it” like she did. This year, the spot next to the dressing where the deviled eggs would go was empty. My great aunt had suddenly died only 2 days before Christmas. She passed from complications from her kidney disease, and she also had other chronic conditions that run in our family. For this reason, we all talked about how we should all aim to make health our family’s New Years resolution, and how we might better plan for the unexpected.

When I reflect on Elder Brackett’s song, I imagine its sustained popularity is because it continues to remind us about the beauty of getting back to basics; by keeping life simple, we can lift the veil that the stress and excess of our modern lives puts over our eyes, and allow ourselves to reflect and re-orient ourselves to what matters most. Indeed my family, despite the grief and exhaustion that accompanied our holiday season, had one of the most engaged and memorable Christmases we’ve had in many years. This was our true simple gift.

Most importantly, we also elected a new egg-maker: me.

When you next gather with your family, consider taking advantage of that time to discuss what matters most to most of us: our health, and the dignity that comes from being heard.

A change in health or an accident could happen to any of us, just like it did for my great aunt overnight. That’s why it’s important for everyone to have these conversations with loved ones, and to document their health care wishes in an advance directive like Five Wishes where you’re actually prompted to think about those simple gifts in life. I’m taking the opportunity as the new year begins to give copies of Five Wishes to everyone I saw on Christmas Day. For you and your loved ones, why not do the same?

Diagnosis Breast Cancer: My Saving Graces

Leslie Piet, RN

My journey with breast cancer began 20 months ago and includes what I hope is a final surgery in October 2019.  The initial trauma of hearing a diagnosis of breast cancer was quickly followed by information overload.

Even after working as a nurse for more than 40 years, some of this journey felt new and uncertain to me.  I’ve cared for countless patients with cancer in my professional life. This was my first experience being a cancer patient.  There were so many initial unknowns – the size of the tumor, prognosis, preferred treatment, and surgical options.  I wanted to know everything, but I had more questions than answers. I was in a hurry – hearing a cancer diagnosis makes a person want to get things done quickly – yet it seemed like all the gears of the healthcare and insurance mazes were moving so slowly.   

Uncertainty. Beside the cancer diagnosis, it was a lot of the uncertainty that kept me up at night.  Much of this diminished as treatment plans were made and carried out over time.

Fortunately, there were a few SAVING GRACES that gave me certainty in uncertain times:

My Family:I went home and told my husband about the diagnosis. His initial reaction was “Well, I’m in it with you for better or for worse, Leslie. I’m with you all the way.” Sure, I could list all the things he did for me along the way, including driving to way too many doctor appointments these past 20 months. But the most important thing is that he was there for me. And I knew he would be. But he said it to me right away. That meant the world.

My friends: I used to underestimate the value of cards. I do not anymore. Many of my family and friends sent cards or notes, or a small gift, or simply said they were praying for me. I kept every one of those cards, and they remind me of the kindness and love that I have been so fortunate to receive. There were many times when my anxiety level was very high, and I’d look at those cards and remember the prayers. They helped to sustain my energy and ability to cope. It was a great help to use the technology of Caringbridge.org to keep people advised on my condition. It also helped me not to have to repeat too many times what was happening to me.

My Five Wishes: Many times over this journey I have thought about my own mortality. Again, the uncertainty can be overwhelming.I’m not afraid of dying, but I’m concerned about what can happen before I get there. I first completed my Five Wishes advance directive more than a dozen years ago – it spells out who I trust to make healthcare decisions for me, what types of treatment I would want and not want, how to help me be comfortable, and what I want my family to know. The healthcare decisions are important, but it’s the other issues of the heart and soul that really matter. When not tended to, they can be a source of great anxiety and uncertainty. But when you’ve given it thought and consideration – and you’ve said “I love you” to the people who matter most to you – then, even in the midst of uncertainty, you can live peacefully with the knowledge that you’ve taken care of the most important parts of life.

I hope my dear husband will not have to use my Five Wishes document for a long time.  But I know he is well aware of my values and wishes, and he will carry them out.  This gives me a great deal of peace.  Having my Five Wishes in place is an act of love for my family so no one has to second-guess my wishes.

Leslie Piet, RN, MA, CCM, CHPN is a nurse who has served the community surrounding Baltimore, Maryland, for more than 40 years. She co-authored the reader’s guide to The Four Things that Matter Most by Dr. Ira Byock, has given numerous workshops on advance care planning, and serves on the Board of Directors of Aging with Dignity.

Books on My Bookshelf

As someone certified in Clinical Pastoral Care and a longtime hospice volunteer in Illinois and Florida, I’m often asked to recommend books that might help individuals and families deal with serious illness, impending death and “grief relief” post-death.  I’ve since compiled the following reading list in the hope that you will find these books tremendously helpful, as I have.  This selection of books is meant to reach people from all walks of life.  They are useful to those of all religious beliefs, or no religious belief.

The books are not listed in any particular order of importance.  Note that some titles are by the same author and that all but one of them are available via Amazon.  In some cases, I’ve added a note or two about the author and book.  Happy reading!

Here to There, Grief to Peace:  An Illustrated Journey in Nine Guided Steps

Diana Jacks, Ph.D.

A sensitive book that offers gentle steps to healing for people going through any kind of loss.  Moving from loss to recovery to happiness.

 

Living with Grief:  When Illness is Prolonged

Kenneth Doka, Ph.D. and Joyce Davidson

Forward by Jack Gordon, President of Hospice Foundation of America

Hospice Foundation of America started this annual teleconference series because they saw a need to educate hospice workers and volunteers about bereavement issues.

 

Channels of Healing:  Studies for the People of God  

Rev. Owen Dowling, Bishop of Canberra, Australia

Help for those who are in need of spiritual healing.

 

Praying for Wholeness and Healing

Rev. Richard Beckmen,  Member of Order of St. Luke, an organization committed to promoting a healing ministry in congregations.

How do we pray for healing?  Why are some people not cured?  What does forgiveness have to do with healing?

 

Healing

Francis MacNutt, Ph.D.

Trusting in God’s power to heal.

 

How Good People Make Tough Choices:  Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living

Rushworth M. Kidder

Shows us how to grapple with everyday issues and problems relating to moral judgments.

 

The Purpose Driven Life:  What on Earth am I Here For?

Rick Warren

Explains our real purpose on earth and states profound truths in simple ways.  The book helps to place your feet firmly on the right path, with God’s help.

 

Biblical Counseling for Today:  A Handbook for Those who Counsel from Scripture

Jeffery Watson.

Using scripture to impart advice.  The author served as a pastor in the Washington, D.C. area for 20 years.

 

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Sogyal Rinpoche

Inspires a quiet revolution in the way we look at death and care for the dying, and the whole way we look at life and care for the living.  Accepting death, the heartbreak of death from a new perspective.

 

Letters to a Dying Friend:  Helping Those You Love Make a Conscious Transition

Anton Grosz, Ph.D.

A Westernized version of the classic thousand-year-old Tibetan Book of the Dead, without all the multi-armed deities that are part of the Eastern tradition.  What westerners will experience as we leave our body and enter the afterlife.  Introduction by H.H. the Dalai Lama.  Grosz is a retired hospice counselor and workshop leader in San Francisco.

 

How do I Live When I Know I’m Going to Die?:  Thoughts and Insights About Life’s Most Challenging Passage and America’s Last Taboo

Anton Grosz, Ph.D.

A short gentle book, caring, compassionate and easy to read.  Includes information on hospice care at the end of life.  Makes one stop and rethink the way we look at death.  Grosz is a retired hospice counselor and workshop leader in San Francisco.

 

The Rights of the Dying:  A Companion for Life’s Final Moments

David Kessler, founder of Progressive Home Health Care Agency.  Progressive was a pioneer in the hospice movement.  He has helped hundreds of men, women and children face death with peace, dignity and courage.

The book helps people understand that death is the full surrender of ourselves to love, much like falling into the arms of God.  That death is going home to God.

Among the rights:  The right to be treated as a living human; to maintain hopefulness; to be cared for by those who can maintain a sense of hopefulness; the right to express feelings and emotions about death in one’s own way, etc. It’s like 17 Wishes!

 

How Good Do We Have to Be?:  A New Understanding of Guilt and Forgiveness  Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People

Shows how to love and forgive ourselves, along with others.

 

Where There is Love, There is God:  A Path to Closer Union with God and Greater Love for Others

By Mother Teresa, edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk

 

Come Be My Light:  The Private Writings of the ‘Saint of Calcutta’ Seeking the Will of God

By Mother Teresa, edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk

 

Holy Listening:  The Art of Spiritual Direction

Margaret Guenther, an Episcopal priest serving as Priest Associate at Church of the Holy Trinity, New York City.

 

The Practice of Prayer

Margaret Guenther

The book deepens the understanding of prayer and our relationship with God.

 

Toward Holy Ground:  Spiritual Directions for the Second Half of Life

Margaret Guenther

Undertaking the tasks essential to a mature faith; mortality and fulfillment; preparing for “a good death.”  Good sense of humor and a rock of common sense.

 

Thirsting

Rev. Terry Fullam, a priest at St. Paul’s Church in Darien, CT.

A man’s effort to relate to God; the meaning of grace, mercy and love; fear and security; pride versus equality; right relationships; and life beyond life.

 

Gone From My Sight:  The Dying Experience

Barbara Karnes

 

Knowing God

J.I. Packer

What it means to know God.

 

Getting to the Other Side of Grief:  Overcoming the Loss of a Spouse

Susan Zonnebelt Smeenge and Robert DeVries

 

Pathways for Caregivers & Patients

Bill Webster

Reflections for the journey through life-threatening illness and beyond.

 

Deathing:  An Intelligent Alternative for the Final Moments of Life

Anya Foos-Graber

How you can take control of the inevitable and experience it, not with fear, but with awareness of your connection to God and the universal oneness.

 

Graceful Exits:  How Great Beings Die

Sushila Blackman and Neil Shah

Death stories of highly spiritual individuals who show, by how they handled their own passage, that dying is the most natural thing in the world and there is nothing to fear.

 

Good Life, Good Death: Tibetan Wisdom on Reincarnation

Rimpoche Nawang Gehlek

A very gentle book about how you live and how you die can affect your rebirth the next time around.

 

Last Acts of Kindness:  Lessons for the Living from the Bedsides of the Dying

Judith Redwing Keyssar

True stories of positive ways families dealt with someone dying in their family.  Written by a director of palliative care.

(Ms. Russell is a member of the Aging with Dignity Board of Directors)

President George H.W. Bush’s Example We Can All Follow

We have more in common than we think.  Rich or poor.  Young or old.  Democrat or Republican.  Citizen or non-citizen.  The common thread that unites us all is our human dignity.

That dignity is inherent in every person, regardless of social status or privilege.  We just experienced the grandeur of the state funeral of President George H.W. Bush.  While it’s true that most of us will not have flags lowered on our behalf, there are some great lessons to be learned and acted upon.

Like any family, we learn from those who precede us.  One generation shows another how to live, work, overcome challenges; and, yes, how to age and approach the end of life.  In this way, President Bush was a great example.  His unmatched service to our nation aside, just look at what he taught us in the years after his presidency.

Watch: Aging with Dignity Founder Jim Towey’s thoughts on President George H.W. Bush

He was purposeful, joyful, intentional, and adventurous:  Who can forget the images of President Bush parachuting out of a plane, at the age of 90!  He stayed active, vibrant, and involved in things he enjoyed and with the people he loved.  May we do the same.

He loved and was loved back:  Because the Bush family lived their life so publicly, we had the opportunity to glimpse into their family life.  His sons, President George W. Bush and Governor Jeb Bush, particularly and repeatedly paid tribute to their father.  The love of a son for a father is strong, and it is good to see.  Even President George W. Bush’s last words to his father, “I love you,” and the response, “I love you too,” left nothing unsaid.  May we do the same.

He planned:  We know that all former presidents have a plan in place for their passing.   There are so many logistics to coordinate for a national memorial service that it cannot be left to chance or decisions made on the fly.  We do not all plan state funerals in our families, but we can give thought to how we would want to live our last days: Would we want to be at home?  To have family or friends with us?  To have music played?  To have religious or spiritual rituals?  To be remembered in a memorial service?  We hear that Ronan Tynan not only sang at the funeral service, but he was also at the President’s bedside and sang Silent Night on the last evening of his life.  We may not all be graced with a virtuoso singing in our room, but we can tell our families what music we appreciate.  If Ronan Tynan isn’t available, there’s always a Spotify playlist.  The Bush family knew what their father would want, something as simple as music, and they provided it at the perfect moment.  May we do the same.

He retained autonomy:  According to news reports, he wanted to remain in his home rather than spend the final days in a hospital.  This was likely due to the family talking in advance and knowing what the President would have wanted.  Since he was still of sound mind, however, they did not go about making decisions for him without him.  Too often today, we make assumptions that our elders are so out of it that they can’t make their own decisions.  Sometimes that is true and we need to act on their behalf and in their interest.  But let’s not forget that these wise souls can still make decisions for themselves.  President Bush maintained his autonomy to the end.  May we do the same.

He was accompanied:  President Bush was not alone.  He had the love and support of not only his large family, but also his close friends.  Former Secretary of State James Baker, a friend of more than six decades visited regularly and was at the bedside of his friend on the day of his passing.  For some people, the fear of being alone at the end is their greatest concern.  President Bush’s family and friends stood by the side of the man they knew and loved.  May we do the same.

He united:  We saw the images of the state funeral with our nation’s political leaders of all stripes united under the dome of the Capitol and the spire of the National Cathedral to pay tribute to President Bush. Few other things could accomplish such a feat.  Even when it came to what could have been the awkward question about the role of the current President in the funeral service, President Bush made his wishes clear.  How many people in that Cathedral were at odds with each other politically and personally?  Is that much different than many of our own families? In this instance, we pulled together as a nation.  We united. Love was expressed.  Forgiveness granted.  Space made for the differences that sometimes divide us, but should never conquer us.  May we do the same.

He was dignified:  Beyond the pomp and circumstance, President Bush lived and died with dignity.  He lived a life of purpose.  He lived in a way the resembled the great dignity with which he was endowed by his Creator, in the ways he served, loved, forgave, and united.  May we do the same.

Yes, President Bush set a good and inspiring example for us.  Those looking for a simple next step can start with Five Wishes.  It’s an easy way for you and your family to make important decisions and talk about what matters most to you.   We may not all be able to jump out of planes in our nineties – or have Ronan Tynan sing at our bedside – but we can tell our families and friends what is important to us.  Some things are too important to leave to chance.

All indications are that President Bush left nothing to chance. In doing so, he gave our whole nation one final lesson.  The end matters.  How we approach the end of our lives, how our family experiences our passing, and how we will be remembered are not afterthoughts.  In these moments are hidden the virtues of life.  Meaning and purpose are revealed, if we do it right. He did it right.  May we do the same.

(Paul Malley is President of Aging with Dignity, a national nonprofit organization based in Tallahassee, Fla.)