People who are dying often have the same regrets, says Dr. Joanne Kliejunas.
They didn't stay true to themselves and instead focused on meeting others' expectations. They worked too much and didn't express their feelings to loved ones. They lost touch with friends and didn't allow themselves to be happier.
In the four-session series "Talking About Dying As If It Might Happen to You," Kliejunas will help people address those issues and find ways to live out their remaining days in a more meaningful way.
The series is from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursdays in April in the Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center Carpenter Room 2, 2825 E. Barnett Road, Medford. The series is free, although registration is required by calling 541-789-2604.
Based in Ashland, Kliejunas helps individuals and families prepare for the end of life. She is also a hospice volunteer and instructor about dying preparations.
"Whether we have a day left or a week left or five years left, being aware of dying reminds us we don't have forever," she says. "We need to live life as meaningfully as we can. Imagine if you only have three more days to live. What is it you would want to say? Start saying it."
Kliejunas says people need to reflect on their values and what's important to them so they can have meaningful conversations with loved ones and fill out advance directives for end-of-life medical care.
During part of the series, participants will break up into small groups so they can practice speaking about difficult issues.
"Part of this class is about practicing," Kliejunas says. "It's about exploring and hearing what you want to say and realizing, 'I can do this. I can start this conversation.' People may feel stuck. Once they start, people sometimes are surprised at what they have to say. Then it's time to think, 'Who else needs to hear that?' "
The first session starts Thursday with an overview about dying. Kliejunas will encourage people to think beyond the physical aspects and ask themselves what else they have to take care of, what they want to experience and say to others, and how dying will wrap up their life story.
The April 13 session will focus on how individual values influence health care choices. Participants will think about what is essential to their quality of life, what care they would choose and how to refine an Oregon advance directive that directs end-of-life medical care.
"The most important aspect of an advance directive is the naming of a health care representative — the person we select to speak for us if we're not able to," Kliejunas says. "Only about 15 percent of people rapidly approaching death are able to speak for themselves and are competent and aware enough to direct their medical care."
Another critical element of an advance directive is spelling out what types of medical care and intervention, such as tube feeding, people want under common scenarios, she says.
"That is invaluable in providing guidance to health care professionals," Kliejunas says.
On April 20, participants will learn how to find the words to share what's important to them, how to express their wishes to those who matter, and how to prepare others to support them.
The last session, April 27, will help participants live in the present more deeply and personally, communicate openly and explore the wisdom that comes from aging and the dying process.
Kliejunas says preparing for the dying process helps everyone involved.
Family members have the hardest time getting over a death when they have to make end-of-life medical decisions without knowing what the patient wanted, she says.
"It's anguishing for people who make those hard decisions, and they feel they're doing it without knowing what their loved one wants. Those deaths are the most difficult to recover from," she says. "They don't feel like their loved one is at rest, and they're not at rest. It's not fair to do that to anybody."
Kliejunas adds, "Being clear about your wishes will help you get the best care for you that you want. But it's also the best way to take care of your family in that circumstance and make it easier. We're all going to go through this. Let's make it easier on each other."
The series is presented by Asante Hospice and sponsored by the Asante Foundation. Free valet parking service is available for the series at the Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center's north lobby.
— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.