In her book, Without Regrets, Helen Emmott, a nurse ethicist, has systematically examined professional and personal issues that can arise during the end of life journey. It was difficult to read about the subject of dying, but she provides information that can make the journey easier for the person who is approaching death as well as for the caregivers. I am adamant about getting my affairs in order, and I’ll take help wherever I can get it.
In addition to Helen’s book, many other reliable resources are available. The National Institute on Aging publishes a pamphlet series, Age Pages, including one called Getting Your Affairs in Order, which provides links to additional resources.
Plan Ahead so That You Have No Regrets.
I started preparing my end of life wishes what seems like an eternity ago.
- I’m a card-carrying member of a cremation society.
- I wrote my will.
- I’m on my third health care directive as well as my third versions of a power of attorney for health and a power of attorney for finances.
- I wrote a draft obituary.
- I asked a friend who is a potter to make my urn.
To buoy myself through the process and create accountability, I organized a small support group of trusted friends we call “Circle of Life” that meets monthly. Anyone, including a psychotherapist like myself, can benefit from individual and group support to help them face these mind-numbing issues.
Don’t Leave Loved Ones Lots of Decisions to Make
I’d much rather bury my head in the sand, but if I did that, my loved ones would be left in the lurch. Their well-being is my motivator. Making decisions while grieving is overwhelming, and I do not want to put them in that position.
From personal and professional experience, I know that end of life decisions and settling an estate can be a murky quagmire of emotional and physical issues. The symphony of feelings that arise are not easily unraveled without the help of friends, family, and therapists, and they can create insurmountable roadblocks.
This journey is easier for the caregivers if wishes have been verbally communicated and understood, and as many documents as possible have been completed.
My Experience with My Family
When my Dad died suddenly, I received the shocking call, took a plane, went to the funeral, and then attended a grief group for two years. In addition to processing my own grief, the most important thing I learned in that group was to support my mother, regardless of how controversial family members found her desires. After all, she was the one who had experienced the greatest loss. My father’s simple will took effect, leaving everything to my mother. Steeped in grief, she also handled the physical details and logistics. I had only to show up, provide support, and deal with my own grief.
Years later, when my mother passed, my eldest sister, Virginia, handled the grueling, drawn-out, earthly details. In another five years, Virginia went into hospice. My other sister, who is a nurse, handled almost everything while Virginia was dying, even moving into Virginia’s room in the nursing home to provide 24-hour care. My job as executor kicked in when Virginia died. Even though we had no problems, it took three years to settle her estate. I was certainly relieved when that was done.
Making My Own End of Life Journey Decisions
As to my own preparations, getting all these things done seems overwhelming, so I try to do them one at a time.
Recently, I hit a roadblock. My father, mother, and sister are buried at the Union Star Cemetery. I contacted the two monument companies that serve the area to arrange to place a stone for my plot. After several attempts to contact the one I believed had made my family members’ stones, I got stuck. As a therapist, I’m always concerned about others’ well-being. I wondered if someone was sick, temporarily incapacitated, or worse. Around and around my thoughts would go. Thinking about the unresponsive monument company blocked my efforts to reach out to another company to get the job done. I need to bite the bullet and call the other company soon.
Deciding what to put on the stone is also daunting. I remember ordering the design my sister Virginia wanted for her stone. When it arrived, I held it up for her to see. Since she was so near death, we were in a surrealistic aura as she gazed up from her bed at her own memorial stone. I’m glad I could be there with her at that moment to provide comfort.
After I order the memorial stone, next on my agenda is completing in writing Caring Conversations, the advanced care planner published by the Center for Practical Bioethics. The tasks seem endless, but I’m determined to persevere.
Once I have completed everything that all the books, pamphlets, and websites have mentioned, I will give it to Hannah Rues, whose business, Concierge Care, provides caregiver advocacy. She will review all the documents and identify the holes. Once I’ve plugged the holes, I’ll celebrate with some friends! It won’t be over until it’s over—I’ll have to do regular updates—but my caregivers will thank me in the end.
Check out my review of Without Regrets