Planning ahead for the inevitable | September 7, 2018 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

- September 7, 2018

Planning ahead for the inevitable

Public series helps seniors take charge of their end-of-life arrangements

by Chris Kenrick

"If your family didn't know what to get you for your birthday, how do you expect them to know what you want for your funeral?"

That humorous question is posed by Skylawn Memorial Park, a 120-acre cemetery in San Mateo, in ads for its monthly Palo Alto information sessions on funeral and burial planning.

A different group, Mission Hospice & Home Care of San Mateo, appeals to people's sense of empowerment to promote its end-of-life medical planning seminars with the title "Take Charge!"

Though many prefer not think about end-of-life planning, these and other local organizations say preparation pays off later by providing guidance to distraught family members and helping them avoid hasty decisions in a crisis environment.

A committee of residents at Channing House has teamed up with Mission Hospice this fall to offer a four-part series that includes "practical perspectives to help you explore and communicate what dying well means to you." The free seminars, open to the public, will take place Wednesdays from Oct. 10 -31.

The series includes videos created by doctors to demystify some medical procedures that are often performed, with varying degrees of success, on dying patients.

"One of the videos is about the intensive care unit — what goes on in the ICU — so you don't base your expectations on television serials about emergency rooms," said Peter Stangl, a Channing House resident who led the organizing efforts for the fall series.

"Often, the decision-making information is brought onto the scene days before the patient is about to die. I thought we should bring this information to people who are quite independent and relatively healthy and cogent — and yet old enough to realize this could happen to them."

Stangl said he obtained the videos from ACP Decisions, a nonprofit group of doctors that creates videos — for use primarily by other doctors — to provide accurate medical information to patients about their diagnosis.

This fall's series at Channing House, which adopts the "Take Charge!" title and some of the curriculum from Mission Hospice & Home Care, is the third series on end-of-life planning organized by Stangl, who headed the Lane Library at the Stanford School of Medicine for 25 years.

The purpose is to have people plan ahead, think through what's important to them and make the necessary arrangements so that the vision they have for themselves has a chance to be translated into reality when the time comes, he said.

The series begins Oct. 10 with a screening of the PBS film "Being Mortal," based on the 2014 bestseller by Boston surgeon Atul Gawande, followed by a panel discussion. The second and third sessions also include films, among them the documentaries "New Rules for Life Care" and "Extremis."

In the final session, health care professionals will answer questions and help participants complete advance-care planning documents.

Planning committee members stressed the importance of completing the documents and actively discussing them with family members and physicians.

"People need to deeply consider these things and have multiple conversations around them," said Mary Matthiesen, Mission Hospice's director of community engagement and education. "Death, dying and loss are human experiences, not medical experiences." Planning ahead and communicating about it can help people align their end-of-life medical choices with values most important to them — increasing their chances of a peaceful ending, she said.

To register for the "Take Charge!" events at Channing House, call 650 470-5610 or go to The series is free and open to the public.

For more resources and documents on end-of-life planning, go to and click on "Take Charge!"

Contributing writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at


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