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Hospice to host 'Being Mortal' screening in Park Rapids

Hospice of the Red River Valley, as well as CHI St. Joseph's Health Hospice Care and several other sponsors, will be hosting a free film screening and discussion of "Being Mortal: Medicine & What Matters in the End," a documentary based on the book "Being Mortal" written by Dr. Atul Gawande.

The event will take place Thursday, May 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Park Rapids Area High School auditorium.

Terry Kemmer, who will be part of the discussion, was first introduced to the book "Being Mortal" at a book study hosted by his local church in Detroit Lakes.

In "Being Mortal," using stories of his own patients, Gawande addresses how doctors are uncomfortable discussing patients' anxieties about death, therefore they often times provide false hopes and treatments that are actually shortening lives instead of improving them and how families go along with it; thus leaving them unprepared.

Upon reading the book, Kemmer was reminded about the situation he found himself in upon the death of his father.

At the age of 68, Kemmer's father had suffered two heart attacks. Kemmer and his siblings had approached their father about discussing the need for a last will and testament and if he had thought about pre-arranging funeral plans.

"We immediately got shut down. Back then, the mentality was 'let's not talk about it because maybe it will go away,'" he said. "I think in part it was because my dad was 100 percent German. He was very quiet, stubborn and you just never mentioned things like that around him."

After several attempts, their mother discouraged them from pushing the issue further and they decided to drop it.

Three years later, his father suffered a third heart attack that was fatal. He was 71 years old when he died, leaving behind a wife that had never paid a bill and valuable farmland with no will and no funeral plans.

"It made for a very high-stress situation," Kemmer said, adding that he and his three sisters did not all agree on how to handle the matters presented to them. "It would have been much easier if Dad had written down what he wanted. It ended up being more stressful than it needed to be."

Kemmer said the situation was especially difficult on his mother, getting caught between her children. He and his sisters got wiser when it came to handling her affairs.

"She didn't put up a fight. She had Alzheimer's the last five years of her life and we knew those decisions had to be made," he said.

"I think about how upset I was, after he had two heart attacks. I would have thought that would have brought some reality to him," Kemmer said. "Shouldn't that have been a wake-up call for him?"

According to Kemmer, it was a wake-up call for him and his wife. They were adamant that they would not leave their three children with no direction as to their wishes. The two of them took a class on funeral planning and wrote out a will.

"We've pre-arranged all of the policies and information in one place, making it simplistic for our children," he said. "We've made plans, written health care directives. The funeral arrangements and headstones are all paid for. We're even in the process of writing our own obituaries."

Having endured the process, Kemmer says that planning the arrangements surrounding your own death are tough decisions to make, but they are conversations that families need to have so everyone has an input.

"We could die tomorrow, 10 years from now, 20 years from now," Kemmer said. "It doesn't really matter because we are mortal and we need to be more ready than he was to relieve our children the stress."

"From time to time, I think I should have pushed harder. My dad died at age 71, which is how old I am right now and I am so pleased with decisions my wife and I have made," he added. "That's the point of the book. We are mortal and we should make those decisions while we have our faculties."

Pre-registration for the event is required due to limited space. To register visit mortalevent or call 800-237-4629, ext. 1525.