These are hard decisions and uncomfortable conversations to have, no doubt about it. It might be easier, in the short run, to not deal with the idea of dying, dealing with it when the time comes, and what you want from it. In the long run, however, having these discussions (no matter how uncomfortable they may be) brings peace of mind not just to you but to friends and loved ones. Nobody will have to guess (or argue over) how you would have liked something done.
Saying your goodbye to loved ones on your own terms can be a great gift for all involved. And don’t be afraid to talk about what this means to you. Are you afraid? What are your beliefs? Do you want to leave messages or memories behind? Know it’s going to be hard for you and family to relate to normal life but it’s going to keep happening. Making these decisions now will make that easier.
Let people know exactly how sick you are. Don’t be a brave soldier, bottling it all up inside. Things might get tough, tempers might flare, lives will be put on hold because you might need help – everyone will understand a lot more if they know what you’re facing. Don’t be afraid to accept help, you may need that for cooking, cleaning, even dressing or bathing. And sometimes it’s not even about letting people know you’re sick, it’s just letting them (and yourself) know you’re getting older.
Put not just your own mind at ease with planning and preparedness, also consider your loved ones. Make the financial, legal and practical consequences of illness and death much easier for your family to deal with. Legal & Financial issues can wreak havoc within the family you’ve left behind. Relatives who have been looking after you (which others in the family may not realize) might feel like they’re owed something for taking care of you. This may cause resentment by other family members. Some may not realize the true state of your finances and assume the money has already gone elsewhere. Children still living in your home may assume the house is going to them. Sometimes families can’t ever come together, if so a mediator is a useful way for everyone to find common ground.
Advanced Directive are two legal documents that help you 1) plan your end of life directive, what care you do or don’t want (living will) and 2) communicate your end of life directive to someone who will make that choice in case you’re not able to (medical power of attorney). Taking care of this means your family doesn’t have to make the decision for you, worry about that decision, or worry they’re going against your wishes. Remember to give a copy to your family, your doctor, and keep a copy in an easy to find location (perhaps with your will). Statistically it’s much more likely an advance directive will be written if the critically ill patient has family members present.
What are your end of life plans you want to happen? Not to happen? Do you want life prolonging treatment (CPR, feeding tubes, breathing machines) if it’s available? Sounds like an easy decision but sometimes you’re still living in pain, or the costs can be debilitating for those you’re leaving behind. Life support may help your body do what it no longer can but it may also just delay the inevitable at a lower quality of life. While a feeding tube allows you to keep getting nutrients if you can’t eat or drink on your own it also doesn’t solve any of your health issues and many consider the process horrible. Breathing machines operate similarly – the ventilator pushes air into your lungs but if there is no chance at recovery it can just delay the inevitable in a fashion many consider woefully uncomfortable. And where would you like to be when that time comes vs what may be possible (physically and financially)? At home? Hospice? Nursing Home? Hospital? Remember to also talk to your doctor and lawyer to let them know your thoughts.
Do you want to donate your organs? No family member wants to make that decision for you, and don’t assume 1) they automatically know what you want or 2) they would choose the same option you would. Many people feel differently, they can’t know unless you tell them. If you already know, why not visit organdonor.gov now to find out where to sign up.
And finally, what are your funeral plans? Cremation or Burial? Do you want a church service? If so what hymns, readings or music would you like? Or maybe more of a reception and celebration of your life, family and friends? In either case who would you want there? As with all of the previous topics discussed, it’s easier if you’ve already come to a decision that can be left for your family so they don’t have to. Easier on them because they know, without a doubt, what your last wishes were. And easier for you because you have peace of mind that your last decisions will be honored by those you’ve left behind. And anything that can help give you peace of mind at the end is worth a little time now.