As a nurse working in oncology, Geri Arkell saw first-hand the difficult conversations people would be forced to have regarding end-of-life care.
Since she retired, she has been involved with hospice, as chair of the board, but she also started giving workshops on planning for advanced care about five years ago to help people in these situations.
“In my day-to-day work, I saw many families arguing about the care for mom or dad,” she says.
The idea, she says, is to have those difficult questions early, before they become more difficult when a loved one is nearing the end of life. The hope is to get people to make their own decisions while they are still capable, so that family, friends or other loved ones do not have to make tough choices later on without any direction.
“The class opens the door to a lot of questions for people,” she says.
As opposed to funeral or estate planning, her sessions focus on issues around care right up until death. This might even involve anything from whether a person wants to go into a care facility, have a breathing or feeding tube or resuscitation orders, or how to provide care in the event of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
“When I do my talks, I talk about the last week of your life, or the last two weeks, what is it you’d like,” she says. “It’s like having fire insurance. It’s taking care of business.”
Often, people have misconceptions over issues such as having CPR. In popular culture, people getting CPR often make miraculous recoveries whereas in real life there are many potential complications.
“Television hasn’t been our best friend,” she says.
Arkell will be providing free workshops at the Campbell River Hospice Society starting this weekend. These will be in two-day sessions over the next couple of weeks.
“It’s about laying out your wishes at the end,” says hospice executive director Louise Daviduck. “It also helps the family too.”
There are workshops on Monday, Sept. 17 and 24 from 1 to 3 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 15 and 22 from 10 a.m. to noon; Thursday, Sept. 20 and 27 from 10 a.m. to noon; and Thursday, Oct. 4 and 11 from 10 a.m. to noon.
Arkell has also given workshops at other places like the seniors’ society or churches, and is conducting a workshop at ElderCollege at North Island College on Oct. 3 and 10 starting at 2:3o.
During these, many questions can arise, even around the unexpected. Sometimes young people can face end-of-life circumstances – for example, from an accident – so the questions around advanced planning, she says, are ones that any adult should be prepared to address.
In situations involving the diagnosis of a terminal illness, Arkell says it is important to tackle the tough questions early.
“Once you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness, it’s very difficult to do,” she says.
One of the biggest obstacles, Arkell says, in getting people to discuss advanced planning and end-of-life care is that the subject of death for many is still taboo.
“I think there are a lot of people that do not think about what’s coming down the road,” she says. “Let’s bring this out into the open.”
Campbell River Hospice Society is located at 440 Evergreen Rd. For more information, see https://www.crhospice.ca/