A couple months ago I mentioned to a friend that I planned to participate in a “plunge” and she envisioned me doing a polar bear-style leap into an icy lake. Not me—I’m more of a heated pool type—but I was more than willing to do a deep dive into the issue of end-of-life in our community.
Organized annually by ThedaCare’s Community Health Action Team (CHAT), a plunge is sort of an adult field trip. Leaders from all sectors of the community participate, including education, business, government, philanthropy, non-profits, health care and faith organizations.
Because this particular plunge focused on the last chapter of people’s lives, participants traveled together to a variety of places including Cherry Meadows Hospice and Valley Funeral Home. We learned from a variety of experts including emergency room, oncology and gerontology physicians, a hospice chaplain, a funeral director, an attorney and leaders of minority faiths and cultures.
As the day progressed I was saddened by stories of individuals who hadn’t prepared for their last days. I was fascinated to learn about the importance of forgiveness in the Islamic faith and the fact that Hmong funerals can be up to five days long. I worried about how prepared we are for the large number of aging Baby Boomers and was inspired by the work that’s been done on end-of-life planning in La Crosse.
A CHAT Plunge helps participants see health-related issues in a larger context, and offers a platform upon which organizations and individuals can collaborate to improve our community. At the post-Plunge debriefing, it was clear that ideas were already brewing, and it wasn’t long before a group visited La Crosse to learn about the “Respecting Choices Program,” which has been held up as a national model.
There’s lots of work ahead but, with the help of CHAT’s fund here at the Community Foundation, I feel confident we can make progress on this difficult issue.