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Death & Dying in Delta County

At 4 pm on Tuesday, April 16, the Blue Sage in Paonia will present a practical session to help people deal with a topic no one wants to talk about. Jean Ceriani is trying to tell us something. As a healthcare provider, she’s seen how the body wears out, gives up, or is wounded beyond repair. But most of us can’t seem to communicate with one another about this most basic fact of our existence – that it will end.

“We all know we’re going to die,” says Ceriani, “but we still don’t talk about it. We still don’t sit down and make those plans. Studies show that 70 percent of us would like to die at home, and 12 to 15 percent of us actually do die at home. Many of us are still dying with more pain and more suffering than we should have.”

Ceriani says that four out of five of us die without advance medical directives. In fact, we rarely make any specific end-of-life desires known to our loved ones because we avoid the topic. “I mean, we can’t even make that decision,” she says, “so we expect our family and our friends to do it. Probably not the best way to deal with the end of your life.”

Ceriani and Carolyn Ringo will walk participants through “The Five Wishes”, a series of questions that lets you consider what you want if you become seriously ill. Developed by a man who worked with Mother Theresa for more than a decade, it’s a Living Will that includes not only your medical directives, but also your personal, emotional and spiritual wishes.

These considerations are, of course, connected. For example, if emergency medical people respond to a person who is having a heart attack, their sole aim will be to get the patient to the hospital alive no matter how old or otherwise ill the person is. According to Ceriani, “One out of ten elderly frail people who have cardiopulmonary resuscitation done on them survive, one out of ten, and most of them have some sort of tissue or organ damage after the CPR. So at the end of your life, having people jumping up and down on your chest is probably not what you want to have done. If you don’t have a directive, they’ll assume you want it.”

Things can get more confusing and complicated once you get to the hospital. There are questions about life support, about organ donation, about disposition of the body. “If we get into the hospital and we’re unable to make decisions,” says Ceriani, “the doc will at that point gather all the interested people that he recognizes, can find, and they as a group will designate a person, and that person then becomes your proxy.”

But if you haven’t discussed with your family and your friends what you want at the end of your life, how can this person know? And if at the end of your life you haven’t designated anybody, the doc can’t find anybody who will be your proxy, they will appoint a guardian, and a guardian can end up in the courts, trying to figure out who’s gonna do it, so you’re just kind of lying there waiting and they’re in court trying to figure out who’s gonna make the decisions.

The main thing here is, talk about it. If you’ve been putting it off, here’s your opportunity to talk about death and dying, and get a document in place.  

Marty Durlin contributes freelance news features, including coverage of Delta County Commissioner's meetings and local governmental issues.