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Expert says Canadians must start planning and discussing end-of-life issues with family
The time has come for Canadians to change the conversation about death from denial and fear to acceptance and inspiration, says an acclaimed author and leading expert on hospice services and end-of-life planning.
Stephen Lloyd Garrett, who was invited to the South Okanagan by the Desert Valley Hospice Society as part of National Hospice Week, made a brief presentation to members of Town of Osoyoos council on Monday.
He also made an extended presentation about the importance of end-of-life planning to Osoyoos residents Monday afternoon at the Osoyoos Golf Course and Monday evening at Medici’s in Oliver.
Garrett recently published an acclaimed book about preparing for the end of life called When Death Speaks: Listen, Learn and Love.
During his presentation to town council, Garrett thanked councilors for their support of the Desert Valley Hospice Society and applauded the society for the “tremendous work” they are doing in Osoyoos and Oliver.
“We have this very nasty relationship with death” that is surrounded by negativity and fear by not only those who are near the end of their lives, but their entire extended family, friends and loved ones, said Garrett, who worked in the cremation business for many years.
A recent survey has indicated 83 per cent of Canadians have a strong desire to die at home, yet only 20 per cent take the time and effort to make plans to ensure that happens, he said.
“Families don’t want to talk about the end of life,” he said. “But they should talk.”
Statistics also confirm 25 per cent of Canada’s healthcare budget is spent on five per cent of the population during the last 10 months of their life, he said.
There is no way to escape the fact people die, yet most won’t talk about this subject, including many seniors who are in poor health, he said.
The financial impact on families who don’t make any plans and are then faced with huge bills relating to funerals and other ancillary costs is immense, said Garrett.
“The amount of money spent on funerals in this country is frightening,” he said. “The average price of a funeral in Canada is $9,000 … and many people simply can’t afford it.”
The entire issue of “planning for the end” is more relevant than ever because the fastest growing segments of Canada’s population are citizens over age 80, he said.
He has committed much of his spare time to travelling across the country to stress the importance of having Canadians change their attitudes about death and ensuring they take the time to plan and detail what they want during their final months, he said.
“Let’s have a warm, but difficult conversation about dying with dignity,” he said.
He travelled to Bali in 2010 and was overwhelmed by what he observed during a “celebration of life” of an elderly woman.
“There was plenty of weeping and sorrow, but this was truly a celebration of her life,” he said. “There were pictures and stories … it was a huge celebration.”
Garrett reiterated how important it is for people facing the end of their life to sit down and talk frankly with their family members about what they want done when they die.
Garrett said he has sat down with his wife and two sons and told them exactly what he wants done when he dies. He has put aside money to ensure his ashes can be spread on the Ganges River in India and has even arranged what music will be played at his funeral.
“The Rolling Stones will be playing at my party,” he said smiling.
Garrett said his book details how to approach death with compassion, love and frankness, talking openly about death, planning for the inevitable, and supporting family and friends with tools and skills to begin a new type of conversation.
The tools, information, and real life stories are all designed to offer a different perspective in dealing with death and loss, he said.
Garrett has experienced success in life as a teacher, investment banker, social worker and author.
Along with his success, Garrett has faced tremendous loss and difficulty in his life. Despite those difficulties, he says he has learned to remain open, loving and steadfast in the midst of hardship.