Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Preparing for death

Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Preparing for death

Natalie Gelman

Our concern about dying, awareness of who is dying and the significance of those losses is not the only way this theme plays out in our lives as we get older.

For one month I facilitated a discussion group on aging at the Mastick Senior Center here in Alameda. The center's services are available to anyone over age 50. I was interested in enhancing my awareness of the aging process. For one hour a week people would come to the group, and I invited them to say what they were interested in discussing.

For the four weeks the group met, at least 17 people attended each session. One of the concerns raised was how to prepare for dying in a practical way. Many didn't know how to write wills, trusts or advanced directives. The majority had never talked to their children about how they wanted to live the remainder of their lives or designated who they wanted as an executor.

I was surprised because I found many of the group to be bright people who could express themselves well. I surmised that members of my group likely had the ability to pay to meet with an attorney to make arrangements. My conjecture was confirmed by the group. They said that they were ignorant about making these arrangements and were never advised to do so.

I made copies of a document called “Your Conversation Starter Kit.” It is put out by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. It begins by sharing facts about what people are doing to prepare for death in terms of discussing it with close members of their families or significant others. It then has pages of statements about priorities and allows the reader to rate her/himself on each one. The goal is to recognize the important or valuable aspects of preparing to die and to become somewhat desensitized to having a conversation about it.

The group members took their copies home and over the following three weeks we discussed the form. It was meaningful to discover the variance in opinions. Many discovered the significance of a vast number of the subjects presented and decided a conversation with others was an important step to take.

I encourage everyone to access this document. It can be found at

Natalie Gelman can be contacted at Her web site is


Submitted by marilyn pomeroy (not verified) on Thu, Jul 31, 2014

The conversation doesn't get started because our society doesn't talk about death as a normal part of life. It is a taboo subject. We are protected from it as children, and in turn we protect our children from the experience. No wonder we grow up thinking it is off limits as a subject of conversation.

Submitted by frank on Fri, Aug 1, 2014

Perhaps this is true today but I grew up in a Irish-Italian Catholic neighborhood back East and remember being taken to 'Wakes' in private houses before I could walk. It seemed a very natural transition as the person or relative were resting in the same house in which you knew them when they were alive.
I stared my own 'Trust' in my 40's after a close friend died without completing a Will. He had inherited money from his wife who pre-deceased him. It was intended for her children from her prior marriage. It ended up all going to his brother who he had been estranged from for 30 years. That was a wake up call for me.
This is a very good software to use. It will do a Will and/or Trust, Health Care Directive. Everything you will need.