Thursday April 11, 2013

WESTMINSTER -- Jane Brody had already dedicated her work to health and the end of life decades before her husband Richard was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.

The New York Times columnist has long advocated for terminally-ill patients to quickly get their final affairs in order and make it well-known how they want to carry on the remainder of their days. The universe had provided an example of cruel irony with the death of Richard, whose wife had published "Jane Brody’s Guide to the Great Beyond" just one year earlier, in 2009.

But Richard made it clear he wanted no intrusive therapies and chose to cherish his remaining time with his family. This is one point Brody touches upon when she speaks to public audiences, as she is scheduled to do at Kurn Hattin Homes on Tuesday, April 16. Her most recent book, "The Great Beyond Can Wait, But You Can’t! Helping You and Your Loved Ones Prepare Medically, Legally, and Emotionally for the End of Life," will be the subject of her talk.

The event, set to begin at 5:30 p.m., is the first of Westminster Cares’ 25th Anniversary Speaker Series, "Speaking of Aging." It is free to the public but donations are appreciated and light refreshments will be served.

In an interview with the Reformer, Brody said her speech will pertain to the end of life and the importance of the terminally ill to have their wishes known.

"You never know when your time will come and so many people are left hanging," she said, referring to the difficult medical decisions loved ones must make when their friends or family members are incapacitated and approaching their final days. "People have to wing it when you die. Don’t wait until it’s too late."

Brody said a lot of heartache can be avoided if everyone made sure their loved ones know how they would like to handle a terminal illness. Some people, she said, want to fight tooth and nail against their ailment (even if it means painful and drastic procedures) while others, like her late husband, choose to remain as comfortable as possible at the end of their life.

Brody joined The New York Times in 1965 as a full-time reporter specializing in medicine and biology. She became The Times’ "Personal Health" columnist in 1976 and her column appears every Tuesday in the newspaper’s "Science Times" section and in many other publications across the country. She has been officially retired for 15 years.

She has written 10 books including the best-sellers "Jane Brody’s Nutrition Book" and "Jane Brody’s Good Food Book." She also has written numerous magazine articles and frequently delivers lectures on health issues.

Brody, who lives in Brooklyn, said studies have shown that the grief of survivors is far worse if they were at a loss of how to handle the final stage of a loved one’s life when that person was in an incapacitated state.

"Loved ones are too afraid to tell doctors, ‘Enough already. Just keep this person I love comfortable and let nature take its course,’" she said.

She said having written "Jane Brody’s Guide to the Great Beyond" made it easier for her -- as well as her sons and grandchildren -- to adjust to her husband’s death.

"Nothing good was going to come of this -- and we knew it from the outset," Brody told the Reformer. "But we didn’t have to think about what to do next."

She hopes her lectures inspire other families to have candid conversations about what should happen under terminal situations. She referred to her talks as "a call to action."

Westminster Cares is celebrating its 25th anniversary by presenting a series of four speakers to explore key issues in aging, such as physical and mental health, financial well-being, maintaining social connections, and end-of-life issues.

"Speaking of Aging" is sponsored through a grant from the Fanny Holt Ames & Edna Louise Holt Fund, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee.

Other speakers and dates in the "Speaking of Aging" series include:

-- May 28, "Helping Prevent and Living with Cognitive Decline." Vickie Wilk, APRN, CS, a psychiatric nurse practitioner with Matrix Health System/Otter Creek Associates, will speak at 5:30 p.m., at the Westminster Institute.

-- Aug. 6, "Embracing Slow Medicine: The Compassionate Approach to Caring for Your Aging Loved Ones." Dennis McCullough, M.D., geriatrician at Dartmouth Medical School, author of "My Mother, Your Mother" and a practitioner of slow medicine, will speak at 5:30 p.m. at the Westminster Institute.

-- Sept. 17, "Aging with Humor." Willem Lange, author and commentator for Vermont and New Hampshire public radio, will speak at 5:30 p.m. at the Westminster Institute.

Westminster Cares’ 12th annual Garden Tour is also scheduled for June 29-30.

For more information on any of these events, visit to www.westminstercares.org.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.