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What kind of planning should you do for the end of your life? Bellingham event will tell you

Heidi Ruth, left, chats with Sandy Stork, right, about their local chapter of Death Cafe in this April 2014 photo. Death Cafe of Whatcom County meets monthly to discuss death and dying. Stork will be a presenter at the Aug. 26, 2016, “What’s Next: Planning Ahead – Making Choices for Your Legacy & Health Care” in Bellingham, Wash.
Heidi Ruth, left, chats with Sandy Stork, right, about their local chapter of Death Cafe in this April 2014 photo. Death Cafe of Whatcom County meets monthly to discuss death and dying. Stork will be a presenter at the Aug. 26, 2016, “What’s Next: Planning Ahead – Making Choices for Your Legacy & Health Care” in Bellingham, Wash. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

For one day and in one place, people will be able to learn about the choices they can make and the conversations they should have around their deaths – a taboo subject that needs to be brought into the light.

So said the organizers of “What’s Next: Planning Ahead – Making Choices for Your Legacy & Health Care,” which begins 9 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 26, at the Bellingham Senior Activity Center, 315 Halleck St.

“We’re a very death-phobic culture. We have to accept that that’s just a part of life, that there’s a better, intentional way to die,” said Heather Flaherty, director of the RiverStyx Foundation in Bellingham.

Flaherty will be the opening speaker at the free event that delves into issues as people approach the end of life.

The event is in its second year.

“There was a great response to the event, so we’re happy to continue doing this,” said Eric Pierson, program coordinator for the Bellingham Senior Activity Center.

The center is a program of the Whatcom Council on Aging.

So who should attend?

“This is important for people as they’re aging and also for the children of elderly parents who may be making that transition to receive that extra care,” Pierson said, “and they want to plan ahead for any possibility.”

Presentations will range from the practical to the philosophical.

It’s time we bring the topic of death out of the closet.

Sandy Stork, founder of the Death Cafe of Whatcom County

Morning sessions will focus on palliative care (specialized medical care for people with serious illness), nonmedical support and guidance for the end of life, and ending the taboo on talking about death.

Afternoon talks will focus on wills and legal issues, hospice, end-of-life choices, and the importance of creating advance directives.

Such directives are written plans that lay out what kind of end-of-life medical care people want, or don’t want.

The idea is for people to do their advance directives now, when they can, in case they can’t communicate their wishes later because of illness or injury. They reduce stress and confusion for family, friends and medical providers, as well as unnecessary suffering for patients.

Advocates have been working to get more Whatcom County residents to draft advance directives, and an afternoon session of “What’s Next” will include help on completing the legal documents.

Sandy Stork, who helped start the Death Cafe of Whatcom County three years ago, will speak in the morning.

The cafe is part of an international movement to help people make the most of their lives by talking about all matters related to death and dying.

At its heart, Stork said, “is simply a belief that it’s time we bring the topic of death out of the closet.”

Stork was at the “What’s Next” event last year, when the presentation was in a small room that was crammed with people.

“It surprised everybody,” said Stork, who is a retired geriatric mental health specialist.

She attributed last year’s turnout to “natural curiosity” among a generation that’s “not as frightened of the word death” as others may be.

This year, the Death Cafe presentation is in a larger room.

“It’s the cycle of life,” Stork said of death, “but we’ve lost touch with that in our modern world.”

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

If you go

What: “What’s Next: Planning Ahead – Making Choices for Your Legacy & Health Care.” The free event is open to the public. In addition to speakers, people from Whatcom County groups and businesses will answer questions about their services.

When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26.

Where: Bellingham Senior Activity Center, 315 Halleck St.

Details: wccoa.org, 360-733-4030, ext. 1035, and epierson@wccoa.org.

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