Famed Clinicians: Prepared but Not Ready for Death

In Memoriam page at the National Institute on Aging

In Memoriam page at the National Institute on Aging – Click to enlarge.

When we think about dying, about the end of our lives, we may look to the experts for guidance — to those people who have long experience with various aspects of aging and the medical issues that complicate the process of dying. We assume that these people have their own end of life details all worked out.

This week a New York Times article by Alexandra Butler, a poet, helped us gaze into the experience of the well-prepared.

Robert N. Butler, M.D., the founding director of the National Institute on Aging, and his wife, Myrna Lewis, a social worker who specialized in support for older women, had all of the details worked out, and they shared all of this information with their daughter. Their preparations, so well conceived and worked out, assumed that Dr. Butler would pass away before his wife, but this did not happen. Just like anyone else, these two experts were confused at the unexpected turn of events. Moreover, when his wife was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, it became clear that while they prepared and saw to the arrangements for the end-of-life, being prepared for death is a lot different than being ready to die.

In her article, Alexandra Butler writes that despite the uncertainty and challenge of watching her parents die, she was very glad that they had made the preparations for palliative care with no extraordinary interventions.

No one wants to die. Some people handle this by avoiding the topic — and the preparations. Others handle it by speaking incessantly about the expectation of dying. Still others, work hard to ensure that each minute detail is in place, so that family members spend time saying good-bye. Dr. Butler, who is also the individual who coined the term ageism, was prepared, but as his daughter points out, he was not ready.

When Dr. Butler died in 2010, I wrote this post for AsOurParentsAge.

Best Quotes

  • Our deaths are the last message we leave for those we love.
  • In a world where so many of our fellow human  beings live with threats of terror and destruction, if you are lucky enough to imaging you might have any measure of control over how you die, that is a privilege that would not go to waste.

Alexander Butler’s perspective offers support and encouragement to those of us — adult children and aging parents — as we navigate the the final years of aging.

Fitness Age vs. Chronological Age

Adult children should check out the October 2013 New York Times Well Blog article, What’s Your Fitness Age? The piece by Gretchen Reynolds shares information about the concept of fitness age — it can differ significantly from an individual’s chronological age — and how researchers calculate the measurement for individuals.

Reynolds points out in the article that, while we cannot change our chronological age, we can do things that improve our fitness age. The research took place at a Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim with results published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (abstract), a journal published by the American College of Sports Medicine.      Continue reading

More on Fraud: AARP’s Fraud Watch and Other Helpful Sites

Click to visit AARP’s Fraud Watch and sign up for email alerts.

Click to visit AARP’s Fraud Watch and sign up for email alerts.

Check out Michelle Singletary’s Washington Post column, Let’s Band Together to Stop Scammers, a terrific piece that appeared today (September 28, 2014) and a perfect follow-up to my most recent blog post, Windows Security Fraud Phone Calls.

My piece shared a recent experience with a telephone caller who tried to get me to share personal information because of problems (fraudulent) on my computer. Singletary also shared information about a phone call that she received, and she also quoted many people who also experienced fraudulent scams or even fell for them.

Whether you are an aging parent or an adult child, this is an important column, because in addition to sharing her experience with a similar scammer’s phone call, Singletary also provides information about the AARP’s  Fraud Watch Network, a developing site at the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), that enables people to check out and ask questions about potential scams.

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Nursing Home? Be Prepared to Learn

Medicare publishes this document to assist people in checking the details and quality of care at any long term care community.

Medicare publishes this document to assist people in checking the details and quality of care at any long-term care community.

No one ever wants to think about the possibility of a nursing home. Yet long-term care may figure prominently in many of our lives.

The New York Times recently published two articles by Jane Brody about how to choose a nursing home community carefully. In part one, Nursing Home Unthinkable? Be Prepared in Case It’s Inevitable, she interviews people who point out how the biggest problem for most families is the timing — the necessity of choosing a nursing community with little time for discovery or preparation.

The piece presents a veritable checklist to help a family go about making a choice when true nursing care is required.

Best Quote in Part I

Nursing homes generally have had a bad reputation as smelly, indifferent places where people go to die. But “there are some homes that are better than being at home,” Ms. Leefer said in an interview. “And there are many more good facilities than bad ones.”

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Remembering an Elder Mom Who Deeply Disliked Dependence

Made with Festisite.com.

Made with Festisite.com.

If you are not a regular reader of The New York Times New Old Age blog, take a few minutes to read the post by Perry Klass, M.D., She Wasn’t So Ungrateful After All. Dr. Klass, a pediatrician and a writer, penned this May 27, 2014 remembrance of her mother, Sheila Solomon Klass, also a writer, who lost much of her sight and needed the support of her adult children. Actually Dr. Klass’ essay was more than a remembrance. It was a tribute.

If you are a regular reader of The New York Times New Old Age blog you probably did read Mrs. Klass’ (the mom not the physician) 2013 blog post, A Very Ungrateful Old Lady, vividly describing her frustration as well as the challenges she faced as she increasingly depended on the support of her adult children. If you did not read it, please do. Mrs. Klass died about six months after her article was published.

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Roz Chast’s Graphic Novel: Serious Humor for Adult Children Caretakers

9781620406380

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This morning I am going to One More Page, my local independent book store, to purchase Roz Chast’s new graphic novel, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

I’ve never read a graphic novel, although I frequently pass by them in local independent book stores. Today, however, I will buy the book and explore this new-to-me genre, really a graphic memoir, because I love Roz Chast. More personally, however, I am deeply involved, by choice, with supporting and occasionally caring for aging parents. As Chast shares her experiences and challenges, doing so with humor and pain, I recognize much of what she depicts.

This cartoonist’s elegant work, mostly in the New Yorker, is synonymous with tongue-in-cheek observation. No matter what topic Roz Chast chooses to illustrate, a viewer laughs and thinks, though not necessarily in that order.              Continue reading