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Chicago End-Of-Life Care Coalition Hosts Fall Benefit

Nearly 100 medical professionals, storytellers and patient advocates attended the Chicago End-of-Life Care Coalition’s annual fall benefit, an effort that raised funds supporting the organization’s educational programming throughout the Chicago area. The event, “An Afternoon of Stories,” was presented with Stories on Stage, one of the city’s only live, dramatic short story reading series.

One-by-one, performers shared emotional, often comical, stories about death and dying as guests sipped craft beers at Revolution Brewing in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood.

Dr. Charles Rhee, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago’s Center for Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, said he appreciated the nonprofit organization’s commitment to educating the public about the importance of end of life conversations and advance care planning.

“It’s amazing to see such a gathering of people united for such a cause, and the performances really highlighting the joys and terrors of the end of life,” he said. “I think end of life discussions are taboo in America because of our health care system. We talk so much about cures and extending life as long as possible, and we forget about death. The most natural things in the world are birth and death.”

Rhee said his favorite story of the night was “Lilacs” performed by Brendan Kelly, partly because of its focus on HIV/AIDS and its “dark and powerful” tone. The script sampled fiction from acclaimed author and activist Dr. Abraham Verghese.

Brendan Kelly performing "Lilacs"
Brendan Kelly performing “Lilacs”

Rachael Telleen, project director for POLST Illinois, said she was encouraged by the diversity of the attendees.

“Seeing people of different ages, seeing people with an interest in end of life, having so many supporters is fabulous,” she said. “I hope the CECC helps the POLST form become more common and accepted, especially as people keep aging.”

POLST is more detailed than conventional living wills or advance directives- these medical orders extend patients the freedom to indicate preferences regarding resuscitation, intubation, intravenous antibiotics and feeding tubes, among other things. POLST is an updated version of Illinois Department of Health Uniform DNR Advance Directive and is intended only for the terminally ill.

The evening was sponsored by several end of life care organizations, including Midwest CareCenter, Rainbow Hospice and Journeycare.

“I love the fact that people are willing to come and hear stories about death and dying,” said Ronette McCarthy, legal counsel for Elements, the cremation company and a member of the CECC’s board of directors. “I look at the CECC as one of the only collaborative end of life groups in the Chicago area. It consists of physicians, attorneys, chaplains, doctors and social workers.”

Life Matters Media founders Dr. Mary F. Mulcahy and Randi Belisomo are members of the CECC.