Georgia: Counselor helps living prepare for death

Georgia: Counselor helps living prepare for death

February 22nd, 2009 by Beverly Carroll in Georgia

When Vida Collins' mother died in a nursing home 10 years ago, Mrs. Collins thought she and her mother were prepared.

"My mom had made a lot of the decisions long before she (died)," said Mrs. Collins, a retiree living in Tellico Village near Knoxville. "But had I attended the Make Life Last seminar before my mom died, I would have done things differently."

Carol Courtney presented the Make Life Last seminar for the residents of Tellico Village, where her mother lives and late father had lived. Her father's death in 2001, followed by that of her husband in 2006, inspired her to reach out to others who will have similar experiences.

"People can begin to plan how they want the last 10 years of their lives to go and not put their heads in the sand, which is what they do now," said Ms. Courtney, a Chicago native now living in North Georgia. "When I bring up end of life, they turn pale and start shaking."

Most Georgia residents want to die at home, but 80 percent die in a hospital or nursing home, according an Emory University study.

Talking is key, or people lose control over how they die, she said.

Creating awareness is the first step, then develop timely and effective communication with family and friends. It's a blessing if bad feelings can be resolved before someone dies, she said.

"I've counseled people who absolutely could not get over something that had happened between them and the person who had died," she said.

Ms. Courtney said her service differs from that of hospice groups, nurses or volunteers who provide end-of-life care.

Often hospice workers' main role is to make the dying person as comfortable as possible, said Simone Kilpatrick, a nurse with Hospice of Hutcheson Medical Center.

"Sometimes you don't know what is going on," Ms. Kilpatrick said. She said she sometimes "pokes and prods" to try and help with emotional issues, but that may not be Hospice's role.

Ms. Courtney said that's why people need to plan far in advance.

"We spend so much time planning a wedding," she said. "But we won't spend any time planning our deaths."

Mrs. Collins said her mother's Alzheimer's came on swiftly, and had known about Ms. Courtney's work she could have eased her mother's last year.

Ms. Courtney's experience with her father's and her husband's deaths inspired her.

"End of life care is my passion," she said. "When people say good bye, it's not morbid, that's a myth. I know my husband's in a great place. And I want to spread the word."