Death is But a Dream: Finding Hope and Meaning at Life’s End with Dr. Christopher Kerr

Covid-19 is changing the process of dying. One of the things that so many of us are deeply troubled by in recent times is that people are dying without having their loved ones by their side. As tragic as these changes are, Christopher Kerr, MD, Ph.D., CEO, and chief medical officer at Hospice Buffalo, explains that no one dies alone; this is deeply comforting as the final days and hours of those dying in hospitals without family and friends. 

Dr. Karlfeldt interviews Dr. Christopher Kerr, a hospice physician and author of the recent book; Death Is But a Dream: Finding Hope and Meaning at Life’s End. Alongside direct patient care, Chris’ focus is in the areas of leadership and patient advocacy. His passion is palliative care, believing that such care should be delivered throughout the continuum of illness. Chris has overseen the integration and expansion of palliative care into hospitals and developed a large, home-based program for adults and children. He has lectured on and published innovative program models designed to better align patient/family services to the complexity of needs inherent to advanced illness.

In this episode of Health Made radio Dr. Michael Karlfeldt and Dr. Christopher Kerr discussed:

  • Dr. Kerr’s journey into hospice and the passion that drove writing this book through the most traumatic event of his life – witnessing the death of his father
  • We have sterilized the death process when it is a very natural process; we need to be engaged and part of the process.
  • Life closure comes down to relationships, connection, and reflection.
  • Natural death process, there is a shift of life perspective – the things that matter most come to the forefront, and fear of death diminishes.
  • Our discomfort with things we are unable to measure or quantify
  • Seeing the very best of people at the end of life with reverence and respect
  • How end-of-life dreams and visions can help to fulfill our needs and is not something to fear
  • Dying is more expansive than the medical model allows. 
  • The beauty of the hospice model is that it is relationship-centered, and is actually healthy and rewarding for the caregivers.
  • The end of life for a child is very similar to that of an adult. Experience shows that they die with feeling quiet peace, security, feeling loved.
  • Fear of death, especially for the caregivers, comes with the void of information that tends to be filled with preconceived notions that death symptoms will be worse than disease symptoms. The reality is as the individual draws closer to death, the body is weakening, symptoms diminish, it is quieter. We need to have honest rich conversations about the peaceful process of death.

More About Dr. Kerr

Dr. Christopher Kerr is the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Executive Officer for The Center for Hospice and Palliative Care in Buffalo, New York. Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Chris earned his MD as well as a Ph.D. in Neurobiology. Outside of direct patient care, Dr. Kerr’s focus is in the area of patient advocacy. His passion is palliative care and a belief that such care should be throughout the continuum of illness. Under Dr. Kerr’s medical leadership, Hospice Buffalo now serves 1,200 patients a day, half of whom receive services before hospice. Dr. Kerr’s background in research has evolved from bench science towards the human experience of illness as witnessed from the bedside, specifically patients’ dreams and visions at the end of life. Although medically ignored, these near-universal experiences often provide comfort and meaning, as well as insight into the life led and the death anticipated. To date, the research team at Hospice Buffalo has published multiple studies on this topic and documented over 1,500 end-of-life events, many of which are videotaped. This work was the subject of his TEDx Buffalo Talk which has been viewed approximately 3 million times. It has been the subject of reports on The BBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, Scientific American Mind, Huffington Post, and Psychology Today. The work will also be featured in an upcoming Netflix production and a Public Television documentary film to be released nationally in early 2021. Dr. Kerr’s work was also published in a book earlier this year (Death Is But A Dream) by Penguin Random House and is now being released in multiple languages.

Find Chris online at his website and Twitter.

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