If you are of a certain age, you may have already worked with an attorney doing estate planning and will writing to ensure that your stuff — tangible assets, stocks, bonds, cash, and collectibles — are distributed or utilized in the manner you desire after you are gone. Perhaps you’ve completed a health care proxy and figure you’ve got everything in order.
But what do you want beyond medical treatment? What do you want your family and friends to do for you and with you when you cannot speak for yourself in a competent manner?
Health care proxies do manage your wishes when it comes to receiving medical treatment. But there may be a period of time when your body will be clinging to life and your family and friends feel unsure of what the next steps should be in caring for you.
Your family may be facing a long list of must-dos, like dealing with hospital and nursing home fees, taking care of your pets, or even what to do with the contents of your refrigerator. They may feel overwhelmed, exhausted, or even incapable of handling further decisions. And here’s a reality check — it’s possible that your loved ones may even secretly feel resentful over having to make these decisions.
There is good news in this seemingly unpleasant but important topic. You can take full and final responsibly for your physical care and comfort beyond just a health care proxy. You can inform those charged with overseeing your care exactly what you want and when. There are available steps beyond a simple health care proxy that you may find equally important.
Case in point: when my friend learned she was facing death, one of her biggest concerns was what would become of her before she actually died. She was unmarried, did not have any children, and her closest decision-making relative was her brother who lived in what she described as a very secluded location hours from her other family and her friends.
Although she knew her brother’s intentions were loving and kind, she also knew he could possible move her to his home where he and his family could take care of her. My friend did not want that to happen.
She wanted to stay close to her home where other family members and her friends would be logistically able to visit. The notion of being cloistered in a remote location frightened her nearly as much as the life-robbing disease she was facing down. She asked me to be her health care proxy and to make sure her relocation didn’t happen.
This put me in a rather uncomfortable position. I suggested she name her brother as her first choice for health care proxy and me second. I intimated that, by doing so, I’d have some say in decisions her brother might make. Although I knew that was not entirely true, it gave her a level of comfort.
I trusted that I would be able to talk honestly with her brother about what his sister really wanted when she couldn’t speak to us any longer. Her brother, although frustrated and confused by his sister’s request, did agree in the end.
Had we known about “Five Wishes”, that painful conversation with the brother would not have been necessary. My friend would have been guiding her heartbroken family through the process of her dying herself.
Families are as different as snowflakes. And while family members and friends may agree in theory to granting a dying loved one their final wishes, when that moment comes, emotions and emotional baggage may get in the way.
To avoid situations that may find the very people we love disagreeing over what to do, the Five Wishes document from the national non-profit Aging With Dignity (www.agingwithdignity.org) can put questions to rest and provide peace of mind to all.
The Five Wishes system combines health care directives with compassionate care requests as well as religious or spiritual needs. It asks the author to consider what they would want in the end — music, prayer, medication to relieve pain, hygiene, food, water, etc. It gives plenty of space to write in additional directives, for instance, what to do with your pets. It even broaches the subject of forgiveness. The Five Wishes document requires the witnessing of your signature, but does not require notarization in the State of Massachusetts. Neither does a health care proxy.
Although Aging With Dignity is a non-profit organization, their website does require a $5 fee to obtain the Five Wishes form. However, your local councils on aging may have already purchased them for you. Also, your doctor’s office may have them available for free, but you won’t know if you don’t ask.
On October 24, the Mattapoisett Council on Aging will be hosting a lunchtime discussion on end-of-life planning with social worker Mary Ann Mont, who will be discussing health care directives and Five Wishes. To register or for more information, contact Jacki Coucci at 508-758-4110.
Also, the Mattapoisett COA has copies of Five Wishes for a donation of $1. Marion’s COA will also be hosting a similar program in the coming months, and they also have copies of Five Wishes for a $1 donation. For information, contact Heather Sylvia at 508-748-3570. In Rochester, contact COA Director Sharon Lally at 508-763-8723.
You may also visit the website for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization at www.caringinfor.org for more information on preparing your final wishes document, or contact the Executive Office of Elder Affairs for the State of Massachusetts.
This Mattapoisett Life
By Marilou Newell