How to Talk About Death … and Life

Many Americans, it seems, have a hard time talking about death. Even doctors struggle to deal with the mortality of patients who they know aren’t going to make it. That’s the focus of Being Mortal: Conversations of Death and Dying, Atul Gawande’s adaptation of his bestselling book to a Frontline segment that begins airing Feb. 10 on PBS platforms. A surgeon and writer, Gawande chalks up doctors’ fears to their sense of professional competence. In gaining experience, “Among the most …

Study: Suffering Increasing at the End of Life

It’s been more than 15 years since the Institute of Medicine released its seminal 1997 report detailing the suffering many Americans experience at the end of life and offering sweeping recommendations on how to improve care. So has dying in America gotten any less painful? Despite efforts to build hospice and palliative-care programs across the country, the answer seems to be a resounding no. The number of Americans experiencing pain in the last year of life actually increased by nearly …

When Is ‘No Treatment’ the Best Treatment?

The swift, lethal nature of brain cancer — and the terrible decisions it forces families to face — has been in the news recently, with three of its victims forcing us to think about choices we hope we never have to make. There was, of course, the well-publicized death of Brittany Maynard, 29, diagnosed with the most common and deadly form of brain cancer — glioblastoma. Doctors don’t know what causes these insidious growths, according to the National Brain Tumor …

Report: Dying in America Harder Than It Has to Be

By Jenny Gold, Kaiser Health News Staff Writer It is time for conversations about death to become a part of life. That is one of the themes of a 500-page report, titled “Dying in America,” released Sept. 17 by the Institute of Medicine. The report suggests that the first end-of-life conversation could coincide with a cherished American milestone: getting a driver’s license at 16, the first time a person weighs what it means to be an organ donor. Follow-up conversations …

Guardian Angels: Volunteering to Make an Impact

Nobody knew much about Roger. His niece had dropped him off at the nursing home one day, saying there was a family emergency. Could they keep him overnight? Days passed, and then weeks. Some thought that Roger’s niece had been pocketing his Social Security checks, and when authorities started catching on, she bolted. Whatever the reason, she never came back. Enter Mark Desmond, Roger’s volunteer guardian. Mark, a newly retired sales manager, was determined to find out all he could about Roger, …

Building Family: How Guardianship Can Create Community

The Post-it note on the box said, “Little things. Wanna look?” I found it in my grandparents’ dining room, tucked alongside the candles and platters they used on special occasions. At that point, my grandmother, whom I called Dibi, had lived with Alzheimer’s disease for a few years. Ever the charmer, Dibi could hide it well, but those of us who knew her knew the battle was just beginning. I love to think about that box and imagine what was …