‘Art of Goodbye’ starts the conversation about end-of-life planning

No one likes to talk about death or dying. But starting a dialogue with loved ones about end-of-life concerns outside of a diagnosis or crisis can help reduce the stress and conflict that sometimes occur when those close to us are terminally ill or pass away, says Lynda Spence, family and consumer sciences educator with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Marion County.

Spence heads the Art of Goodbye project, a series of classes offered through UF/IFAS Extension that helps participants understand end-of-life issues and how to communicate their preferences to family, friends and healthcare providers.

“While most people want to start the conversation, many aren’t sure how to bring up the topic or are afraid that talking about the end of life will change their relationships with people they care about,” Spence explained.

As a family and consumer sciences educator, Spence’s community educational outreach focuses on aging well and financial literacy. “Managing our resources should include elements that incorporate the legacy we wish to leave,” she said. We organized the development of the Art of Goodbye curriculum because we realized that planning for end of life involves many decisions about what we value as well as what we want to leave to those who survive us.”

“One very positive thing we can leave to loved ones is the knowledge that our preferences were honored at the end of life which, of course, means something different to everyone,” said Spence. “The best time to discuss what you want in terms of medical care or final arrangements, for example, is before a health crisis or the unexpected happens.”

The Art of Goodbye program is taught over the course of several weekly classes. While any one class can stand alone, participants will gain the most from attending all sessions, Spence said.

Week 1: Self-reflection and communication concerns about end-of-life issues. “Preparation for the end of- life really begins at the personal level, where we examine our priorities, fears and preferences,” Spence said. “The next step is opening lines of communication with loved ones and healthcare providers. This kind of communication takes the form of multiple conversations over the years.”

Week 2: Passing on cherished objects. This class covers transferring non-titled property. “Our possessions represent a piece of living history, providing continuity and bridging generations. Passing them on impacts families regardless of financial worth, heritage or cultural background,” said Spence.

Week 3: Putting your legal and financial affairs in order. “For some the issue of making final legal and financial decisions is uncomfortable…and can often be complex.  This session is designed to help you consider your specific circumstances and gather information you will need when talking with the professionals necessary to carry out your wishes,” Spence said.

Week 4: Planning final arrangements. “Final arrangements are the ritual of separation that allows for the living to process grief and begin to heal, bringing a sense of closure and reality for relatives and friends,” said Spence.

Week 5: Attending to your spiritual concerns. This session is developed and taught by a faith leader.

Spence emphasized that adults of all ages—not just the elderly or terminally ill—can and should learn about how to communicate their end-of-life preferences to loved one and healthcare providers.

“Often people don’t want to talk about dying because it feels like something that is far off in the future,” Spence said. “It doesn’t matter how healthy you are or how much money you have; planning for the unexpected is something all of us need to do,” she said.

Art of Goodbye series will be held February 1, 8, 15, 22 and March 3, 2017 at the United Church of Gainesville from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Register online or call (352) 378 3500. Registration is required.

The program dates for Ocala are February 2, 9, 16, 23, 2017. Sessions will be conducted at Green Clover Hall at the McPherson Governmental Complex, 319 SE 26th Ter. Ocala, FL 34471. Register online or call (352) 671-8402. Registration is required.

The Art of Goodbye: End of Life Education publication series is available at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_series_eole.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Source: Lynda Spence, 352-671-8400, l.spence@ufl.edu

UF/IFAS photo by Tyler Jones