Americans plan. We plan everything: our schedules, careers, and work projects.
How many of us have planned a wedding? How about a vacation? Your retirement?
We even plan for the disposition of our estates!
The one area most of us avoid planning is the end of our lives. However,
if we don't plan or at least think about and discuss our medical treatment
preferences with those we love, others will take over at the very time
when we are most vulnerable, most in need of understanding and comfort,
and most longing for dignity.
Without a plan, our loved ones are left wondering, trying to decide what
is best, and potentially being at odds with each other which can fracture
families and tear siblings apart. It is in these last days, when our loved
ones are faced with our imminent death, that past hurts can come to the
surface. These old wounds can return in the form of resentment, jealousy,
anger, and profound loss.
So how do we plan for this inevitable stage in our lives? How do we ensure
our health, financial, emotional, and spiritual needs will be met as we wish?
Talk with your doctor about end-of-life treatment and medical decisions.
Let him/her know how much information you wish to receive about your illness
and prognosis. Ask him/her to explain what medical interventions will
really look like given your age and health.
Five Wishes can be a great tool to assist in clarifying what you want and what you
Talk with your lawyer and/or financial advisor to ensure your legal and
financial affairs are in order. Get your ducks in a row with an Advance
Health Care Directive and Quality of Life Statement.
Talk to a counselor, Care Manager, or spiritual advisor regarding any unresolved
issues with others or with yourself.
Talk openly to family and close friends about your values and beliefs,
your hopes and fears about the end stage of your life and theirs. Talk
about who you want to make decisions for you and who you want to be near
if you are seriously ill. Talk about what kind of medical treatment you
would want and what kind you don’t want, what comfort measures and
how you want to be cared for in your final days. Talk about what pre-arrangements
you have made: any funeral arrangements, burial or cremation, who you
want to inherit your grandmother’s ring and why.
Having these conversations now will spare you and those you love much heartache
in the future. Helping your children understand why you are making the
choices you are making will lessen the chance of sibling strife later
on. The emotions your family will experience near the end will make clear
thinking more challenging, so prior knowledge of what to expect will help
things go more smoothly. If needed, enlist the help of a counselor or
Care Manager to facilitate a family conversation.
American thanatologist, Edwin Shneidman, PhD, created
10 Criteria for a Good Death:
- NATURAL: A natural death, rather than accident, suicide, or homicide
- ACCEPTED: Willing the obligatory, gracefully accepting the inevitable
- MATURE: After age 70, elderly yet lucid and experienced
- CIVILIZED: Attended by loved ones with flowers, pictures, music
- EXPECTED: Neither sudden nor unexpected, some decent warning
- GENERATIVE: To have passed the wisdom of the tribe to younger generations
- HONORABLE: Emphasis on the honorifics, a positive obituary
- RUEFUL: To experience contemplative emotions of sadness and regret without collapse
- PREPARED: A living trust, prearranged funeral, some unfinished tasks to be done
- PEACEABLE: With amicability and love, freedom from physical pain
Not all of Dr. Shneidman’s 10 Criteria are within our control, but
most are. Which of these 10 are important to you?
For additional financial health information, please attend Torrance Memorial's
Financial Health Seminars.
Sylvia Thompson is an Eldercare Consultant and Certified Care Manager with
LivHOME where she provides advocacy and care management for seniors and
disabled adults. She is a member of Torrance Memorial’s Professional
www.livhome.com. (323) 933-5880.