Highlights of Inspire! Aging, Death & Dying

Key Takeaways:

  • Issues of aging, death, and dying impact our community in many ways including, but not limited to:

    • Aging in place and affordable housing;

    • Isolation of the elderly population;

    • Ageism in hiring practices of employers;

    • The cost of long-term care and rehabilitative care; and

    • The long-term impact of death on surviving family members.


  • Resources are available through organizations like Senior Resources to assist the elderly to age in-place as well as to provide respite and resources for family members and caregivers.


  • To address concerns surrounding aging, death, and dying, we can, among other things:

    • Plan for our future by developing an estate plan, a long-term care plan, and expressing our “5 Wishes”;

    • Develop your own spirituality and heal relationships; and

    • Make concerted efforts to engage the elderly in the community.


  1. Topic Overview by Barbara Lee Vanhorssen

  • Aging, death, and dying are topics that are rarely discussed openly and honestly. Open discussion can allow us to celebrate the wisdom, experience, and value of elders and help us realize how inter-connected we are as people.

  • Death is natural and our elders should be celebrated for their wisdom and experience.

  1. Speaker Highlights

  • Tammy Garza – Administrator Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation

    • Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation provides in-patient skilled therapy and nursing services.

    • It is incredibly helpful to caregivers for patients to complete a “5 Wishes” packet (similar to a Living Will), which describes how the patient wants to be cared for in the event they become incompetent to make medical decisions, and directions for funeral arrangements.

    • An Advanced Directive is also very important, it states wishes regarding extreme medical intervention (resuscitation).

    • Forms for a Living Will and Advanced Directive can be found online, but an attorney can prepare these documents for you as well.

  • John Sytsema – Sytsema Funeral Home

    • There are multiple stages of death for the elderly or those suffering from terminal illness. The pre-active stage during which the person is lethargic and may be in pain. The pre-active stage may last for a period of weeks, months, or a year. The active stage of death is marked by unresponsiveness, and inability of one to eat or drink.

    • Advanced plans can be made for a funeral. Creating advanced plans may relieve some of the stress for surviving family members. Advanced plans may be made any time, but are generally made during the pre-active death stage.

    • Funeral homes will make its best efforts to honor the wishes pre-arranged by the decedent, but it is important to understand when making such plans that the funeral is truly for the survivors. It is encouraged to talk openly about funeral plans so that everything goes smoothly when the time comes.

    • Sytsema Funeral Home has a grief counselor and holds support groups as well.


  • Dr. VanderHeide – Director of Hospice and Palliative Care at North Ottawa Community Hospital

    • Palliative care is about pain management and quality of life. It may be used for terminal or non-terminal illnesses.

    • Hospice care is generally used for patients with terminal diagnosis, although in some cases people end up having long and full lives.

    • As a society we view death as a failure and try to avoid it at all social and economic costs; this sometimes comes at the expense of quality of life.

    • It is important to have a Durable Power of Attorney (i.e. appoint a health care advocate) to make important decisions on your behalf when you are unable to.


  • Deb Tober – Senior Resources

    • Aging in place and in-home care is much more beneficial to the patient and can be more affordable than living in a nursing home.

    • The “My-Choice” waiver provides in-home services for qualified Ottawa County residents.

    • Senior Resources provides care-giver support groups and respite for caregivers.

    • The Medicare Assistance Program (MAP) office provides assistance with Medicare and Medicaid enrollment.

    • Companion Care Program provides companionship (not nursing care) to the elderly.