The day after her 76th birthday, actress Shirley Patton was sitting in her hilltop home in Ashland, talking calmly and cheerfully about today's gig: improvising conversations about impending death.
Patton, who joined the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 1958, and other former and current OSF actors will perform skits on one of life's toughest discussions at 2 this afternoon and 7 p.m. tonight at the Smullin Center at Rogue Regional Medical Center, 2825 E. Barnett Road, Medford.
The event is part of a series of free public forums offered in Medford by Choosing Options, Honoring Options, a group that offers end-of-life conversations through seminars, workshops and online resources. For more information, visit the COHO website at www.cohoroguevalley.org.
The actors will depict family members in different scenarios, from those who have had a detailed discussion about a loved one's last wishes to those who have avoided the topic and are now forced to make quick decisions about treatments, care and pain management.
Program organizers say that the majority of patients facing death lack the ability to decide for themselves. In these circumstances, a person's last days resemble a drama in which there is no script and family members are not sure of their roles.
Although Patton is experiencing her customary pre-performance butterflies, the topic itself doesn't make her nervous.
"It is not foreign territory," she says, while sitting on her living room sofa Wednesday morning.
She was the "beneficiary," she says, of frank discussions about end-of-life care with her mother, Belle Douglass, who passed away at age 99 in 2009, and Patton's husband, Bill, who died in their home from incurable cancer at age 83 in 2011.
"We were gifted to have had the time to talk about and resolve such issues as the extent of heroic measures to take," says Shirley Patton, who met her husband in 1958, when he was the general manager of OSF.
Because of their previous talks, she felt confident when decisions about his care needed to be made.
"We were very open about end-of-life conversations because we had a rich history of sharing, no matter the subject," says Patton. "We enjoyed listening to each other and hearing each other's stories."
She has prepared an Oregon Advance Directive herself and emphasizes that "none of the decisions are locked in concrete."
She shrugs, a nonverbal way of saying, "Who can predict what will happen?"
Reach Daily Tidings reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or firstname.lastname@example.org.