Why is it that significantly fewer Santa Barbara residents have created an advance healthcare directive than the general United States population? According to Cottage Hospital, only four to six percent of patients have developed advanced care directives — in comparison to the 20 to 30 percent of people nationally.
Finding the answer and improving on the four to six percent are some of the goals of a new collaborative of Santa Barbara organizations that are involved daily in end-of-life care and related issues.
Launching this week, The Alliance for Living and Dying Well offers a resource to facilitate conversations about end-of-life and personal wishes among Santa Barbara residents. The Alliance’s membership includes Cottage Health System, Hospice of Santa Barbara, James S. Bower Foundation, Sarah House, St. Francis Foundation, Visiting Nurses & Hospice Care, and the Archstone Foundation.
Some people believe that talking about the eventuality of death is a morbid, life-denying proposition. But actually, the opposite is most often the case. When we are more aware in our daily life that we will not live forever, we tend to live more fully. We feel more vividly the preciousness of life, of what really matters, and experience a deeper sense of connection with life around us. Many of us have had this experience when we learn of a loved one’s terminal illness. Our love for this person, and the gifts he or she brings into our life, suddenly come more into focus.
Actively knowing that we will someday die brings forth the truth that we are all in this together. In other words, no one is exempt and we need each other in navigating this universal, yet mysterious, phase of life.
We may belong to a particular religious faith or follow traditions that offer significant fellowship and comfort, but there is often something innately “alone” when it comes to our death, because only we ourselves can die our own death. So many of us are further isolated because we experience fear and anxiety about death within a kind of lonely bubble. Other than funerals and memorial celebrations, it is rare to find opportunities to share openly with others our thoughts and feelings about this fundamental part of life. If these kinds of conversations were more often a part of and available in our everyday lives, we may feel our isolation and fears lessen, and discover a renewed sense of connection.
The Alliance for Living and Dying Well encourages and facilitates conversations between family members and loved ones about end-of-life wishes and the feelings each member has for the other. These types of conversations, when culminating in an advance healthcare directive, can be a gift to family and loved ones who might have to make decisions if you are not able. If they know what you wish, then they can be more at peace during what might be a painful time. Death is important, as are all major life phases, our experiences around our deaths matter not only for ourselves but also for our loved ones.
Log on to the Alliance for Living and Dying Well website for a calendar of events, workshops, and conferences. We hope to see everyone at one of our Family and Friends events; we believe you will come away with thoughtful insight into what you might want for your end-of-life experience.