My dear friend, Katie Ortlip—or Katie O—as she is called by her patients, is a social worker and registered nurse who has worked for hospice for 25 years. Over the years, I have heard Katie come home from work and exclaim, “Today was a great death.” Of course, I wanted to know what makes a great death, so one day I asked. “Most people," she explained, “want to spend their last days at home, in their own bed, surrounded by loved ones. They really just want to close their eyes and go to sleep.” That sounded much better than ending up in a hospital on life-support. Creating the possibility of a good death actually takes planning, for patients and the caregivers. At this moment in the U.S., nearly 10 million people over the age of 50 are caregivers for a parent or loved one. They are often overwhelmed trying to handle health emergencies, confusing legal matters, and prepare for the worst, while trying to live their own lives. I asked if there was an all-inclusive manual that could help caregivers and patients. Katie said there wasn’t and confided that she’d always wanted to write a sort of “Death for Dummies” guidebook, because it was sorely needed by her patients and their families. Being a writer, I said, “Let’s do it together.” It was at this time that my 90-year-old father was told his long-dormant prostate cancer had spread to his bones. I became his caregiver, Katie became his hospice social worker, and our writing journey began.
Jahnna Beecham most recently edited National Geographic’s Science Encyclopedia, which was released in the fall of 2016, and was a contributing editor for National Geographic’s The Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Birds. For the past 15 years she has been a contributing writer and editor for Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader—both the adult books and For Kids Only. Under the pen name Jahnna N. Malcolm, Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner have written more than 130 books for juveniles and young adults for Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, Random House, HarperCollins, Bantam and others. They wrote Scholastic’s The Baby-Sitters Club Guide to Babysitting, working with doctors and childcare specialists. Jahnna has written award-winning learning systems and books for Hooked on Phonics. She also wrote a humorous parenting column for Sesame Street Parents Magazine and Children’s Television Workshop online. Jahnna has directed audiobook recordings for Brilliance audio and with composer-lyricist Malcolm Hillgartner, has written the The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: the Musical, published by Playscripts.
Katie Ortlip, RN, LCSW
Katie Ortlip is a Hospice Expert on SHARECARE, Dr. Ahmet Oz’s online health and wellness platform that provides consumers with expert information to help them lead healthier lives. Katie is co-author of Spiritual Tools for the Dying, a booklet distributed by Asante Health Care of Oregon to patients on hospice. She received her nursing degree from Santa Barbara City College in 1982 and then spent three years working in neonatology at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City and Mary Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital in Hanover, New Hampshire. Katie then spent six years working in pediatrics at Albany Medical Center while earning a BA in Psychology and Masters of Social Work at SUNY-Albany. She moved to Ashland, Oregon, with her family in 1992, and has worked as a nurse and social worker for Asante Hospice for the past 25 years. During that time she has studied with Richard and Mary Groves of the Sacred Art of Living Center, completing the Sacred Art of Dying program. She has also studied with Frank Ostaseski, founding director of Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. Katie has a special interest in ethics at the end of life, and has attended conferences with Ira Byock, Barbara Karnes and most recently the Kinsman Conference on Stewardship in Health Care.