Life and death are different at different stages

Life and death are different at different stages

Awful to contemplate, yet as many a young widow or widower knows, it can happen: an untimely death.

Equally – if not more – traumatic is an accident, injury or unexpected health crisis that leaves a young parent unable to make or direct their own health decisions.

I’m involved with several twitter chats about end of life issues, options and considerations, and many who participate are parents of young children.

Directions for care, should they be unable to speak for themselves, are usually very different from those of their own parents or grandparents.
As well it should be.

Age and stage of health

Where an elderly person with multiple health conditions faces the possibility of a stroke, heart attack, injury or unexpected consequence of a health condition or medical procedure and cannot direct their own care, the answer to:‘ Revive’ or ‘Do Not Revive’ (in the event my heart stops, or I stop breathing) may be ‘Do Not Revive’ and that would likely be the opposite of a parent of young children

What does ‘Recovery’ look like?

In addition to all the obvious reason for wanting to be revived (children need you) there’s usually a far better chance of complete or almost complete recovery, with time and rehab. Although this scenario affects the whole family, at least there’s the more encouraging outcome. Not necessarily so as our bodies wind down.

What does ‘living’ mean to you?

Where the brain and its functions are more severely affected – such as Famous cases, Terry Schiavo and Karen Quinlan, young women who suffered severe brain damage whilst having otherwise healthy bodies – it’s an enormous burden on those tasked with making decisions on your behalf: should you be kept alive, taking advantage of options offered by life-prolonging interventions and machinery, or is that prolonging suffering?

As I encourage everyone to open the ‘end of life’ discussion, I regularly hear: “I could be hit by a bus and that’d render meaningless discussion about my end of life wishes.”

Not so. Discussions about life’s end are never meaningless – albeit often fraught and upsetting. More importantly, consider if you’re hit by a bus and live. What then would be your definition of ‘living’?

In 2008, Kathy Kastner launched for adult children caring for aging parents. Her journey, and the resources curated along the way, is called (for those who want to talk about the end of life, and those who don’t).

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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  1. kathy kastner

    Thanks Cheryl. As I learn more about the nuances of decisions about life prolonging interventions I’m learning unusual ways to crack open that ‘conversational’ door. Recently, showing off my new-found knowledge, I explained that a tracheosotomy (pron: trake-e-os toe-me) is the hole made for the tube when long term use of a ventilator is necessary. The response: ‘Ah! that’s where the term os-hole comes from.’ (and therein is an opening for a conversation, pardon the pun)

    • Alan Greene

      Ha! And humor can help disarm and connect us during what could be an uncomfortable conversation. In my med school experience there were probably more jokes per hour in the anatomy lab – not because of a lack of respect, but on the contrary, because of the weightiness of the issues confronted together.

  2. Great inspiration. Though the conversations may not be easy, so important.


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