Many people believe that when someone is dying, there's little their families or friends can do to help.
They're wrong, say Santa Clara University psychologist Dale Larson, PhD, and Albany Department of Veterans Affairs physician Dan Tobin, MD. "There's a lot they can do about it," Larson says.
The two long-time friends and colleagues in end-of-life care have launched a 15-article newspaper series called "Finding Our Way: Living with Dying in America" to educate people about how they can help their terminally ill loved ones. The series is written by end-of-life experts and available free-of-charge to all newspapers and the general public through Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
The articles cover all aspects of death, dying and bereavement, including caregiving, widowhood, spirituality, when a child dies, diversity issues, hospice care and palliative care, and include tips and resources in each area. Topics include "It's time to talk: Most important conversations are the hardest to have"; "Living on the edge: Baby Boomers faced with caregiving dilemma"; "How to control your health care at the end of life: Write the ultimate directive"; and "When a child is dying: Smallest patient offers biggest lesson."
The series is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, and the Charitable Leadership Foundation.
Tobin came up with the idea when he remembered a newspaper education project published in the late 1970s and early '80s that covered topics in the humanities and science, including end-of life issues. Larson, who's done a lot of psychoeducation in hospice care, saw the idea as an opportunity to piggyback on the well-received PBS television series on death and dying by Bill Moyers.
"Most Americans wake up to a newspaper," giving the articles a chance to make a maximum impact, Larson says.
The series was launched two days before the attack on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon, and despite or maybe because of the tragedy, 150 newspapers nationwide ran all or part of the series, from The Arizona Republic to the Philadelphia Inquirer--a total readership Larson estimates at about 7 million.
Larson surmises that at least 50 other papers picked up on it too. The series has been translated into Spanish and Chinese, and appeared in The World Journal, the largest Chinese-language daily in the United States.
Newspapers and the public can download the series free from the Web at www.findingourway.net or at http://www.krtdirect.com/dying. In addition, two organizations connected to the project are distributing copies to all member organizations of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization as well as to end-of-life coalitions, deans of medical schools and other relevant individuals and organizations. Those interested in bulk reprints can get them at cost--$50 for 100 copies--at the Finding Our Way Web site.
Larson and the Finding Our Way team are now developing a Web-based course on the series that's intended for hospice volunteers, end-of-life professionals and other members of the public interested in hospice care.
These efforts are just part of his ongoing desire to fulfill an injunction that fused in his brain early in his career, Larson says. "It's a way to give psychology away, to do some large-scale psychoeducational work on an important topic."