May 1 Symposium – A Beautiful Death

Apr 1, 2015 | 0 comments

Gail Rubin, CT, The Doyenne of Death®

Gail Rubin, CT, Early Pioneer of U.S. Death Cafes

The largest Death Cafe event in the world to date will be held on Friday, May 1 in Las Cruces at the New Mexico State University’s 2015 Dean’s Health Symposium, presented by the College of Health and Social Services. The theme of the conference is “A Beautiful Death: What will you choose?” There will be a host of stellar speakers and workshops that focus on end-of-life care, advance directives and decision-making.

It’s a free event, and 350 people are expected to attend. The symposium will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, May 1, at the Las Cruces Convention Center, 680 E. University Ave.

The morning keynote speaker is Margaret (Peggy) Pabst Battin, a bioethicist at the University of Utah. Battin is considered an expert on end-of-life and has had to face her own life-or-death decisions when her husband became severely injured in a bicycle accident.

I’ll be there facilitating conversations among all 350 attendees at lunch. After lunch, I’m also presenting two sessions of “Doctor, How Long Do I Have?” – a film clip-illustrated talk on how to have good doctor-patient-family conversations.

NMSU buildingThe topic of this year’s symposium was chosen by College of Health and Social Services Interim Dean Donna Wagner because of her interest in advance-care planning and services provided to dying patients and their families by the healthcare workforce.

The Las Cruces Sun-News ran an article about the symposium, featuring a Q&A with me and with Peggy Battin. Here’s part of my Q&A with reporter Alexia Severson.

Q: What keeps you positive when talking about issues that many people would rather avoid discussing?

A: The time to find humor in death is before someone dies. We can laugh at death when it still seems a distant possibility. At one Death Café, a woman told me that while her husband was dying in the hospital, a nurse asked her about donating his organs. “Well, he’s using them at the moment,” she replied.

Once someone dies, you have to get through the aftermath as best you can. Being prepared ahead of time with medical directives, estate planning and funeral planning helps reduce the stress of this inevitable life-cycle transition.

Q: How do you recommend others stay positive about death?

A: Mark Twain said, ‘The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.’ I think that’s really good advice.

Also, I have met people who have had near-death experiences. They were pronounced clinically dead and then came back to life. From what they described they experienced while “dead,” there’s something beyond this physical lifetime. They had no pain, and they lost any fear of dying. Each near-death experience survivor, even guys who called themselves “men of science,” came to believe in some kind of life after death.

Q: What do you hope people take away from the health symposium and your presentations?

A: I want people to realize that just like talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, talking about funerals and end-of-life issues won’t make you dead — and your family will benefit enormously from the conversation.

The outreach event is partially funded by an $810,000 CGE grant from Health Resources and Services Administration, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the Enhancing Capacity for Aging on the Border project.

“Everybody dies and nobody talks about it,” said Kimberly Hill, program manager for New Mexico State University’s Comprehensive Geriatric Education grant. “And if you don’t talk about what you want at the end, your wishes aren’t going to be fulfilled.”

Don’t let that happen to you.

A Good Goodbye