The above link, from a December 2012 NBC News report, addresses the conversations that many of us – well, many of you anyway – still need to have with your parents. (My mother died in 1994, my father in 2007 – those conversations have long since taken place.) In many respects, my brother and sister and I were fortunate because in our family, the topic of sickness and death seemed no different from discussing that night’s dinner menu – perhaps even easier. That’s just how it was in our household growing up. But I’m aware that universally, that is not the case.
In my article Cost of Dying: planning for a good death, from advance directive to talking with your family, I’ve attached an exceptional article about a few people’s experiences discussing how their loved ones want to die. By now I may have lost some of you, but bear with me. There’s a reason why I’ve chosen to address this topic.
GIFTS. Who doesn’t like receiving gifts? Most of us get a kick out of being handed a package with a fully wrapped surprise within and told to “open it!” “What, for me?” Yes – for you. Perhaps the gift is something we didn’t expect, or we’ve sufficiently hinted our exact wishes and finally someone gifted us with that long sought after item. Fun, isn’t it? Someone cared enough to gift you with something you’ve always wanted or you receive something that you didn’t know you wanted, but it turns out, you do!!!
THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING. A few years ago, I succeeded in convincing my wonderful hubby that we needed to put together our “last wishes” which of course includes a Will, but more importantly, an Advanced Health Care Directive. My husband is one of those who isn’t exactly comfortable sitting around the dinner table – or any table for that matter – talking about death. I get that – I really do. So I couched this discussion by talking about what a gift my parents, and his parents, gave their families by specifically outlining what to do when it came time to do something.
When your loved one is heading towards the great beyond, it’s comforting to already have his or her wishes on paper and ready to execute – no pun intended. I’ll use my father as an example. My father died at the age of 89 on October 13, 2007. Official cause of death was prostate cancer but advanced Alzheimer’s was a huge factor in his death. There is no way my father would have a) survived cancer surgery; and b) even wanted cancer surgery at that stage of his dying. His Advanced Health Care Directive very clearly stated his wishes and us three siblings had copies of that document and respectfully went along with his wishes. Dad saved us the stress of making an extremely difficult guesstimate of what he would have wanted in the midst of that situation. His dying was already an emotional experience so I can’t imagine having some sort of discussion about when to stop treating his illnesses.
The legal document, drafted years earlier, was drafted for this specific time. Even if dad had been conscious – and he was not – his dementia would have prevented him from making a well-informed decision. If ever there was a time when dad’s gift was ready to be presented – this was it. That gift allowed us to spend our last hours with him simply loving him; singing to him; and telling him how grateful we were to have him as our dad. Beautiful.
You don’t have to wait until you are 50 years or older to put your wishes in print. Old people aren’t the only ones dying who require some sort of affirmative decision-making. Someone in their thirties could be in a horrific vehicle accident and end up lingering on the precipice of death. A forty-year old person could have a stroke and be on that same precipice. It’s never too early to do something about your exit from this world as we know it. You can always change your mind later – you decide that you do, or do not, want hydration, so you revise the document. That’s the beauty of word processing – it’s changeable, and once you get that revised version documented by witnesses, you’re good to go! Literally.
If you choose to use an attorney, you can go through the local Bar Association for referrals or you can attempt the same outcome by doing it yourself. Many office supply stores have boiler plate legal documents you can readily purchase – but be certain to purchase the forms that contain the required legal verbiage for your state or territory. Additionally, organizations such as Compassion and Choices provides forms that you can download from their website, even a form that has a Dementia Provision. Who woulda thunk? Not me.
The Holidays may be over, but the season of gift-giving is not. Won’t you consider giving your loved ones one more gift this year?