Friday, January 24, 2020
Barbara Coombs Lee Shows How to Finish Strong
Friday, June 28, 2019


Nordic racers taking part in the Boulder Mountain Tour know how important it is to finish strong.

Barbara Coombs Lee says it’s even more important to finish strong in life’s biggest race—from birth to death.

Her new book, “Finish Strong” is about putting your priorities first at life’s end. And she will be talking about ways to do that at the Sun Valley Wellness Festival and Conference, which begins today and runs through Monday, July 1.

Lee will present the topic “Finish Strong: We Can Do It--But It’s Up to Us” at 3:45 p.m. Saturday, June 29, at the Sun Valley Community School Theatre. She also is presenting a workshop from 9:30 a.m. to noon Monday, July 1, titled “Tools and Tricks to Finish Strong.”

“Sometimes people get totally stretched out on the conveyor belt of treatments. And this causes enormous suffering. It can be time consuming and, often, it makes you feel sick and fatigued. And it robs you of time you might spend with grandchildren,” she said.

Lee is no newcomer to the end-of-life choice movement.

The Portland, Ore., resident has amassed 55 years working in the health field beginning with her stint as a candy striper in Joliet, ill. She’s lobbied on behalf of the terminally ill in courtrooms and statehouses.

She helped draft the nation’s first medical-aid-in-dying law. And now she serves as president of Compassion & Choices, the nation’s oldest and largest organization working to empower those charting their end-of-life journey.

Her own journey started 37 years ago as a young nurse when she grabbed defibrillation paddles, shocking a man in fatal arrhythmia so completely that he rocked in bed.

“He got so angry with me when he came to,” she recounted. ‘How dare you!’ he shouted. It sensitized me about the importance of honoring people’s desires.”

Twenty years later, she said, John F. Kennedy Jr. ushered in a new age dedicated to people finding solace on their own terms when he emerged from his mother’s apartment, noting “My mother died surrounded by her friends and her family and her books. She did it in her own way and on her own terms. And we all feel lucky for that.”

Deciding how we want our end of life to play out allows us to feel more empowered. And it enables us to make it our own, according to our own personality, Coombs Lee said.

More and more people are throwing farewell parties to say goodbye to friends and loved ones and achieve closure while yet living.

They share favorite foods and tell stories. Some read scripture and poems and sing favorite songs, concluding with a blessing acknowledging the cycle of life and death.

The chapters in her book features such engaging titles as “Let Me Die Like a Doctor,” “Hope and Heroism,” “How to Escape Dementia” and  “Secrets of Slow Medicine.”

“Hope and Heroism” acknowledges that what we hope for can change as terminal illness progresses. We may go from hoping for a cure to hoping to meet death on our own terms.

“We think of heroes in terms of fight, fight, fight. But heroes also make strategic decisions to close on their own terms,” Coombs Lee said.

The chapter “Secrets of Slow Medicine” encourages readers not to make a decision rapidly without considering all the alternatives.

“Don’t jump into an aggressive treatment without consider all the options. Gently consider whether you want to submit to treatments that can involve a lot of pain and suffering and can be create a difficult memory for loved ones,” she said.

Ultimately, Coombs Lee said, you can’t run from death.

“In the final analysis, it’s not about the process of dying but of living your best life right up until the time of death.”


The free Experience Hall at the Sun Valley Wellness Festival and Conference has been expanded to include a free Insight Stage, featuring presentations by Experience Hall exhibitors and workshop presenters. It will also serve as a question-and-answer platform for featured speakers like Barbara Coombs Lee and others following their presentations.

The schedule will be posted throughout the Sun Valley Community School campus and online at

The Experience Hall, free to the public, is located in the gymnasium of the Sun Valley Community School. It opens at 9 a.m. each day beginning today, June 28, and running through Monday, July 1.

In addition, the festival will host a free show featuring the music of the Kosmik Band from 8 to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 29, at the Limelight Hotel in Ketchum.




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