Four-Part Series on Living into Aging and Dying

Wednesdays, Jan. 16, 23, Feb. 6, 13; 6:30pm

Three Parishioners Team up to Offer Four-Part Series on Living into Aging and Dying
By Linda Campanella

Last spring, Jim Cox-Chapman and Gary Smith found themselves immersed in conversation about death, something each of them had confronted—one as physician and the other as pastor—numerous times over the course of their careers. They quickly discovered they shared an interest in promoting greater dialogue about a topic most people prefer to avoid. Each was eager to encourage both more conversation about and better preparation for an eventuality none of us can avoid; death is 100% certain for each of us, and, if we’re lucky, most of us will reach old age!

One conversation between them led to another and eventually led them to approach AHCC staff about the possibility of developing some sort of program for the congregation.

Around the same time, I was approached by a filmmaker from Oregon, Cathy Zheutlin, who followed me on social media, where I am a vocal advocate for reimagining end-of-life care and breaking the taboo attached to death in America. She had read When All That’s Left of Me Is Love, my memoir about my terminally ill mother’s last year, and felt the two of us were kindred spirits on parallel paths. She was just beginning a national tour to introduce her film, “Living while Dying,” and wondered if I might be able to attend a showing in Connecticut. After viewing and being deeply moved by the beauty and honesty of Cathy’s film, I approached AHCC staff about the possibility of arranging a viewing at the church for interested members of the congregation.

Seeing an opportunity to connect some dots, Rev. Erica Thompson suggested I reach out to Gary and Jim. She suggested we explore whether, together, we could develop a program or series that would educate and engage fellow parishioners, potentially helping them live into what lies ahead feeling better prepared and more empowered.

A wonderful collaboration ensued.

Gary, Jim and I met a number of times. Jim believes it is “important to consider both the journey and the destination” and says nothing brings these issues into sharper focus than aging and the prospect of dying. Gary believes “death being part of life is one of the wonderful complexities and mysteries of living,” and he wants to encourage others to live into that moment “with eyes wide open.” I often describe my mom’s last year as (and even initially titled my manuscript) a year of living while dying (coincidentally also the title of Cathy’s film!). In many unforeseen ways, her terminal diagnosis was a gift; while anticipating death, we embraced living (and loving) more fiercely than ever before. Since we are all “terminal,” shouldn’t we all live as though today might be our last day?

The three of us talked for hours—about what worries us as we anticipate growing old and becoming less independent; about the challenges of dealing with a loved one’s decline or terminal illness; about when and how to have conversations about what matters most to us as we age and what kind of death we want; about what constitutes “a good death” and what we can or cannot influence; about finding peace or closure when it’s not “a good death;” and about so much more.

Soon the sharing turned into planning for ways to enlarge our circle and expand the conversation.

The result is a four-part series, “Living into Aging and Dying,” that will be offered on four consecutive Wednesday evenings beginning January 16.

Conventional wisdom suggests most people simply don’t want to talk about death. However, evidence suggests that, in reality, we really do; we are just waiting for an invitation. Gary, Jim, and I invite you to join us in conversation.

Our program, which will begin with a showing and discussion of Zheutlin’s film, is designed for anyone interested in the topic of aging and dying, not just for those who believe they are in or approaching the late stage of their lives. Each session will include not only the sharing of information by the three of us, but also interactive group dialogue and some individual exercises that will yield valuable, tangible, “take-away” benefits for participants. For example, in Jim’s session we will work on completing The Five Wishes document, which in our state can serve as a valid advance directive.

All are invited! We have so much to learn from each other by sharing our stories.

While folks are encouraged to plan to attend all four sessions for maximum learning value, each session will have value on its own. A sign-up sheet is available at the Membership Engagement table.

More information about the focus and discussion questions for each session is available on the flyer on the Adult Education bulletin board.



Jan. 16: “Living while Dying”—a thought-provoking new film, followed by discussion

Jan. 23: What Confronting Death and Loss Teaches Us about Life and Living, facilitated by Linda Campanella

Feb. 6: Focusing on What Matters Most, facilitated by Jim Cox-Chapman

Feb. 13: Facing Tough Questions at the End of Life, facilitated by Gary Smith


Suggested Reading:

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old by Parker J. Palmer

When All That’s Left of Me Is Love by Linda Campanella (discounted ($10) copies available in the church office)


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