Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

January 10, 2013

Conversation worth having: Dying wishes

Judy Wakefield
Staff Writer

---- — It’s a conversation everyone should have with a loved one. It’s about getting old and receiving the medical care one wants. And, boy, is it tough.

Dr. Rob Schreiber of Andover is a geriatric specialist and knows how tough it is for families.

“It’s the white elephant in the room,” Schreiber said. “But, you should have this conversation with a loved one. Make time for it. You will feel better.”

Pushing for these conversations is sweeping the country in hopes of getting more families and friends talking about what kind of medical care they want at the end of their lives. Boston journalist Ellen Goodman launched the online Conversation Project last August that offers a conversation starter kit on how to get the conversation going. She had a difficult experience caring for her dying mother. USA Today just reported that 60,000 people have visited the site and 40 percent of them have downloaded the kit (

Schreiber is a strong supporter of online sites that offer tips on how to get the conversation started. He comes to the Andover Senior Center on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 6:30 p.m. to share his thoughts on the importance of this issue. His lecture is part of the center’s “Coping with Caregiving” series that starts tonight, Jan. 10.

The bottom line is that it’s easier when decision-makers know what patients would choose for themselves.

“You will benefit if there is a plan in place,” said Schreiber. “You ensure that the plan someone wanted is being followed.”

Schreiber is former chairman of geriatrics at Lahey Clinic and currently the medical director of outpatient primary care, community based programs, innovation and development for Hebrew Senior Life. He is also a past member of the Andover Senior Center’s Council on Aging board.

He knows getting aging or sick loved ones to talk about death and dying is difficult.

“They may disagree or just not be willing to talk. You have to respect that and put up with it. Just don’t give up,” Schreiber said.

Tips on starting the conversation As tough as it is, people should talk about a loved one's dying wishes. Geriatric specialist Robert Schreiber, M.D., of Andover, provided these websites to help get the conversation going: