Monday, June 15, 2015

End of Life planning

Those of us who are over 60 are enjoying life to the full. So, it’s no surprise that end of life planning is the last thing on our minds. When we do think about death, our concerns tend to be for the family and friends that we would leave behind. So, there’s the dilemma. We don’t want to think about our mortality. But, we still want to make sure that our loved ones would be taken care of, should the unexpected happen. Fortunately, end of life planning doesn't need to be depressing.

Think about what's right for you. What are my values, beliefs and understanding about end of life care and specific medical procedures?

Learn! There are many medical procedures that can be offered at the end of life. Some may improve your quality of life, others may only prolong life. Different people have different thoughts about these procedures.

Record - It's a good idea to write down your wishes, or make a recording or video about your wishes for end of life care. Find out what forms are available in your province or territory.

Review your plan regularly, especially when something in your life changes. Continue the conversation!

Choose your Substitute Decision Maker. Choose someone who would honor and follow your wishes, and is able to speak for you if you can't speak for yourself.

Talk about your wishes with your Substitute Decision Maker, family members and friends who are important to you. Tell your health care team. If you have a written plan, make sure they have a copy.

Ideally, this should be a two-way conversation. In a perfect world, we would sit down with our children and have a rational discussion. Unfortunately, for most people, especially the young, death is not an easy topic. 

Breaking the Taboo Around Death
Death doesn't have to be scary. If you come from a family that avoids “unpleasant” topics, perhaps it would help to introduce them to one of the following two organizations. Both groups provide blueprints for how to talk about death with friends and loved ones.

Death over Dinner: This website was founded by a group of medical professionals and wellness experts, who were concerned about the disconnect in the American health care system between how Americans say they would prefer to die (at home) and how they actually are more likely to die (in hospitals or care facilities). Their website provides interactive tools and helps people to host “Death Dinners.” These events facilitate conversations with the intention of allowing people to face death on their own terms.

Death Café: This website provides resources to help people talk about death with the people they love most. It facilitates conversations about how you want to die, what you want to have with you on your final journey and what is most important to you in life. The site promises “an uplifting interactive adventure that transforms this seemingly difficult conversation into one of deep engagement, insight and empowerment.” Check out the Death Café website for more details, or to find a Death Café location near you.

Planning a Funeral
If you want to make your funeral wishes clear, here are a few things your loved-ones might want to know.
Making Your Wishes Known. If you’re planning your own, talk with your family about your funeral wishes to make sure they know what you want. Having a verbal conversation about your wishes will paint a better picture for your loved ones than written requests. Consult with your attorney before you finalize anything. Keep a written record of your funeral arrangements close at hand, perhaps in a file cabinet at home, rather than in a safe deposit box. You’ll want you family to have timely access to your records when they need them.  

Most guests at a funeral will bring flowers or have them sent unless they are instructed otherwise. If you would rather your guest donate money to a charity in lieu of flowers, you can make that request in the obituary and by word of mouth. Be sure to include instructions on where to send donations. Examples of charities to donate to:

  • the hospice agency that cared for you loved one
  • the cancer or other society of the illness your loved one had (such as The American Heart Society if your loved one had heart disease)
  • a charity that your loved one regularly donate

Donating Organs
If you’d like to be an organ donor, please make your wishes known in advance.

Choosing Burial or Cremation
Cremation has become much more popular in recent years. There are also “green funeral” solutions like Bios Urn, where your ashes can be used to plant a tree. 

Deciding Where to be Buried
If you are religious, would you like your funeral to be held at a church, temple or other house of worship? Or would you prefer a less formal memorial service? Would you like your loved ones to gather at your house, at a favorite restaurant, in a park or another place with special meaning to you?

Selecting Music and Words
Do you have a favorite song or poem or passage from a book that you would love your family to hear as they share in your memory?

Choosing Who to Invite
Who are the loved ones that you would be most honored to see gathered to celebrate your life after you’re gone? Perhaps there are even a few people you do not want to attend.

Taking Care of Paperwork, Business and Wills
If you haven’t already, organize an appointment with an estate planning attorney to get your affairs in order. Think about making a living will, including medical directives in case you become incapacitated by illness or injury. If you are married, talk with your spouse and make sure that you are listed as beneficiaries of each other’s assets (pensions, life insurance policies, etc.) 

Managing Your Digital Assets
It might sound silly, but, deciding how to handle your “digital assets” is more important than you might think. After all, who gets access to your e-mail address after you die? Would you like your family to have access to all of your messages? Or, would you prefer that they stay private? If you want your family to have access to your online accounts, consider making a big binder, with a list of all of your usernames and passwords. It’s much easier to specify in advance who should have access, rather than leaving your loved-ones to struggle with the powers that be at Google, Yahoo, Microsoft or Facebook

End of life planning is a complex and multi-faceted topic. If you’d like to start today to get some practical help with end of life planning, 

Ironically, planning for a time when you will be gone frees you up to make the most of what is left of your amazing life.

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