It’s been spring for a few weeks now, the season that signals a time of rebirth and renewal.
But this column isn’t about new beginnings; we’re focusing on the end of things.
The end of life isn’t a topic most people care to think about, but once you get over the shock of learning you won’t live forever (despite your best efforts to slow down on the Cheetos and Mountain Dew), considering your final moments on Earth isn’t all that terrible. Really.
More importantly, having your final wishes written down on paper means your loved ones won’t have to make wrenching choices while you’re lying unconscious in a hospital.
That’s the whole idea behind National Health Care Decisions Day and a free program on Tuesday at Brookside Care Center.
This year’s event will feature a video message recorded by musician Graham Nash — which seems odd for a program about completing power of attorney for health care forms. (Those forms will be available at the event and are to be filled out and kept somewhere safe and accessible.)
I know what you’re thinking, “Shouldn’t Nash — a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and former member of the Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash — be too busy writing songs and performing to talk about an end-of-life decisions program in Kenosha? And doesn’t he have ‘people’ who can do this sort of thing for him?”
It turns out, this community event is exactly the sort of thing Nash does make time to do.
He got involved for three reasons, we surmise:
He is 77 years old and, let’s face it, when you’re in your seventh decade, the end of life seems closer than it does when you’re in your 20s.
Nash is a longtime friend of Helen Sampson, the quality coordinator with Kenosha County’s Aging and Disability Resource Center.
And he’s just “a really good guy,” Sampson said.
Sampson helps plan the National Health Care Decisions Day program and visited Nash in Chicago recently to film the introductory video.
The story actually starts in 1984, when Sampson first met Nash at a Dane County Coliseum concert.
“I worked at Alpine Valley in East Troy as a kid,” she explained, “and the security people at that Dane County concert were the same people who worked at Alpine Valley. So they let me go backstage to meet him. After that, I saw him every year at Alpine Valley, too.”
She said the two — who have never been involved romantically — “just clicked as friends.”
She first asked Nash for a favor after she finished her graduate degree and moved to Brookine, Mass., where she was working with the local council on aging.
“There was a huge population of older adults there and no senior center,” she explained.
She first thought about asking Crosby, Stills & Nash to play at a benefit concert for the project, “but their tour manager explained to me that I didn’t have an actual event,” she said, laughing. “We did a press conference instead, and Graham spoke at that press conference.” (That area now has a $5 million senior center.)
After that, Sampson said, “I just kept asking him. He donates to our Alzheimer’s Walk team every year and gave us an alternate version of his song ‘Our House’ we could use. He’s always willing to help out.”
As much as Nash will help out with public events, he “does personally nice things for me, too,” Sampson said, explaining how Nash reached out to her nephew, Marshall, when he faced a difficult operation. “He was the first one to respond when I asked people to send in supportive messages, and he kept in touch with me the whole time, telling me to stay optimistic.”
When Marshall recovered, Nash sent him concert tickets to a show near Marshall’s California home and gave him a shout-out from the stage.
Sampson says the two “are genuine friends, though we don’t see each other often.”
“He wants to do good, and I create opportunities for him to do that. He really is someone who has a strong interest in social justice and environmental justice. Nothing is too small for him to do. He will lend his energy and, occasionally, his money.”
While organizing this year’s National Health Care Decisions Day program, Sampson and the planning team were looking for something new after the first event in 2018. “I said, ‘well, I could ask Graham to talk to the program on Skype,’ but he might be on tour in Europe, which could make that difficult.”
By luck of timing, Nash was performing in Chicago at the Athenaeum Theatre on March 17.
“We went down there and videotaped a conversation about this topic,” Sampson said.
Chris Ventura, the director of business development at Froedtert South, filmed Sampson and Nash talking.
“I haven’t seen it yet, and I’m a little nervous about it,” Sampson admitted. “But we filmed the soundcheck, so it ends with music, which is great.”
Dying done right
If hearing about the importance of filling out an advance care directive from a famous musician doesn’t convince you of the importance of this topic, Sampson said the issue comes down to “ a few basic reasons. We have the right and the responsibility to make our own choices about our health. This document protects those choices.”
If a person can no longer make their wishes known, she said, “your choices won’t be taken away if you had completed this document.”
An advance care directive also protects family members, she said.
“Endings are important, and when your family understands what you want, it makes that ending so much better. People aren’t left wondering if there was something else they coulda, shoulda, woulda done.”
Sampson recently read “The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World” by Nobel Peace Prize laureates the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
In the book, the two leaders “talk about maintaining joy during horrible life experiences,” she said. “There’s a small section where Archbishop Tutu talks about the importance of making your end-of-life wishes known, because when we plan for the end of our life, we are reminded how precious life is. And once we have made these decisions and put them away, we have more space and capacity for more joy.”
Have a comment? Email Liz at email@example.com, or call her at 262-656-6271.