Navigating Life’s Final Journey—Your Way


My neighbor and I were chatting about facing medical challenges.

Bobbi was an operating room nurse until a sudden medical condition forced her to retire earlier than she wanted. She also took care of both parents who had dementia. She has faced lots of end-of-life issues, personally and professionally.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande on AmazonBobbi told me about a book that was very helpful to her and her father, called Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.

I haven’t read the book myself, but was struck by three questions Bobbi shared from the book that she and her father found very helpful:

  • What is your understanding of your situation?

  • What are your fears?

  • What do you want?

I too am finding these questions helpful my husband and I ponder and discuss medical and other issues of aging (mentioned in another post).

Talking through key questions with family members can go a long way toward preventing confusion, anxiety, and misunderstandings.

Navigating Life’s Final Journey by Pat O’ConnorAnother very helpful little book for clarifying end-of-life decisions is Navigating Life’s Final Journey, by Pat O’Connor. Pat was an Advanced Practice Nurse Practitioner specializing in Primary Care as well as Hospice and Palliative Care. (She also was my college roommate for 3 ½ years—one of God’s best gifts to me!)

Pat’s book is both moving and practical. She shares stories from her own experience with patients, and also gives very straightforward advice on the kind of decisions to be made, documents you need to ensure your wishes are honored, how and when to have conversations with family members and your medical staff, and resources available such as palliative care and hospice (and the differences between these).

It’s not pleasant to face the fact that we will inevitably come to the end of this life. At least for me, though, I feel more peace in knowing I’ve faced the decisions, gotten things in order, and that family members understand what I and my husband desire in terms of the final phase of my life on earth.

Thinking through these kinds of issues clarifies what you really value. Since I don’t fear death so much as the process of dying, my decisions are based more on quality of life than length of life. Facing these questions and decisions head on gives a sense of empowerment.

Making sure your life ends your way, to the extent that you can, is your final act of autonomy.

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