Why do I talk so much about the need for “third chapter conversations”? Although the moniker has not yet entered common parlance, and may never, I’d like to share why it has so much importance for me.
In reaching 60, or thereabouts, I believe we do enter a new chapter of life. We feel it for sure. Our pace is slower, we ache, we contemplate retirement, or the need to not retire, and we find ourselves ending up with more than usual doctor’s visits, and some uncertainties about “what’s next?”
Most important, we realize that we will not live forever. We are mortal beings. Given that, we may even hear our soul whispering to us: “The years ahead, my friend, offer perhaps your best and last chance to live a life more true to yourself. And if you don’t think about it and plan for it, and give yourself time and permission to do so, it just won’t happen.”My own three chapter framework posits three overarching age stages, each 30 years plus or minus, each with their own characteristics and tasks. In our final 30-year+ chapter, the tasks are more focused. We need to be talking to ourselves and our significant others about what it will take for us to live fully both at 60 and at 80, how and where we’ll age gracefully and powerfully, and how we’ll befriend our dying and our death. During these 30 years, how will we make things easier and more joyful for ourselves and not leave a mess for the next generation?
Third chapter conversations, whether formal or informal, with professionals or with family and friends, help sort out the opportunities, possibilities, and dilemmas of the next large chapter of life…all the way to the end. Whether these conversations are desired or not, comfortable or hesitant, we are learning one lesson from the survivors of those who neither had the time nor the courage, nor felt the need, to do some advance preparations. “They should have taken care of that earlier. I better get on it.”
Some third chapter conversations fall into their own “sooner than later” category more than others, and we’d better start talking.
Thankfully the word is out. I am in awe and gratitude for “the movement” sparked by Cooley Dickenson Hospital and the libraries, churches and senior centers in the Pioneer Valley who, in the Spring of 2016, sponsored an immense number of informal discussions on the book Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, MD. In the book, Dr. Gawande courageously “owns up” to the ways he “wimped out” in his doctor-patient end-of-life conversations. He invites individuals and families to assess their options and not automatically surrender themselves to available heroics and medical wizardry of the medical industrial complex. He invites doctors to admit earlier in the game that everything can’t be fixed and that better choices might be considered.
For those who want to assure themselves of quality of life all the way through to the end, these particular third chapter conversations are essential. I recommend the book, and the author’s inspiration and exhortation for individuals and families to courageously plan ahead. What you want to do, where you want to live, how you want to die, the legacy you want to leave, is pretty much within reach…
Look around at your senior center, library, church and community college. The conversational opportunities are starting to emerge. Here’s one version happening in Spring 2016. Take a look: Conversations 1
And yes, start by creating your own third chapter conversation with yourself…because you are mortal!