In many ways I was fortunate as I made decisions about my parents deaths. My mother's sister and her husband were ten years older than my parents. They came out to the prairie to live near us, their only family, as aging and health problems took over their lives. We helped them through the death process. During this time, my parents made out wills and Durable Powers of Attorney for health and for money matters, for themselves. They saw the writing on the wall, so to speak, and finally got it done.
During this time, we as a family also had many talks about quality of life over quantity of life. I never had a doubt about what my parents wanted done, or not done, as their own lives slowly drifted to an end.
From there, I became an advocate for caregivers and seniors, beginning with a newspaper column and expanding with a book, then blogs and articles. I wrote often about the conversations adult children and their parents should have. I reviewed books about making good wills. I had an estate attorney be a guest columnist to explain to my column readers the need for a will and the Powers of Attorney for health and finances. I also wrote often about how people should discuss with their family anything in the news that brought up end-of-life issues. I've been very vocal on about this whole concept.
There was just one teeny little problem I kept hidden under the rug. While I'd be vocal about these issues with my sons, both in their twenties, I'd failed to do the paper work. Sure, I intended to do it. I even knew which attorney I wanted to use. But I knew my kids would be very uncomfortable about actually seeing the papers; about actually signing the papers; about my doing anything tangible that made them realize I will, one day, die.
And I don't like to see my "boys" uncomfortable. Finally, guilt got the best of me. I knew I had to make sure they didn't have any decisions to make that they weren't sure I wanted. I even found some wording I liked on a site for end-of-life wishes. It covered everything I wanted to say, in a very succinct paragraph.
It's odd, my being a writer and still finding that writing out my end-of-life wishes was too daunting to even begin. It's not that death frightens me. It's not even that writing about it frightens me. It's that I was afraid I'd forget something or word it wrong and then my sons would end up with problems. Perfectionism was getting in my way.
However, I'm happy to report that I finally made myself jump through the hoops. I got the papers written up. I presented them to my oldest son, who would be executor of whatever estate I should have. I explained the health issues and what I consider quality of life, and made sure both of them knew where the papers would be kept. I said, "Let's get this over with so we can get on with living." And we did.
Now, my friends, you can make use of a tool that is designed to make it easier to start such a discussion with your family. By clicking on www.engagewithgrace.org, you will first read a touching story about a young woman who died at only 32, leaving behind a two-year-old daughter. You will then be given a chance to answer five questions about how you would prefer your life to end. And you will be given a chance to download a slide to use to help you open this discussion with your family.
This slide gives you a physical tool. The questions give you words. The organization presses you to actually carry through with this important rite of life. Having a chance to discuss with our loved ones our belief about how we would choose to have our lives end, should we have that choice but not be able to express our preferences, is precious.
Most of us would rather live in denial. However, your denial can leave your family in chaos. It can cause rifts between siblings that never heal. It can leave your loved ones heavy with guilt.
Doing something as simple as downloading the slide from www.engagewithgrace.org and sharing it with your family, meanwhile discussing the questions on the slide and telling them where you are on the continuum of choices, could be one of the best gifts you can give your loved ones.
Once you have done that, pass it on. That's what the Engage With Grace movement is about - passing on the message that everyone wins when we accept that each and every one of us will, one day, die. We may need, during that time, to have our loved ones make decisions about where we die, what efforts should be made to keep our body working, if any, and what constitutes quality of life.
Download this slide and spread the word. You may one day find you have helped a friend, relative or neighbor prevent a painful crisis. Go ahead. Be proactive. Everyone wins.
For another real-life account of discussing end of life issues, read PJ Hamel's post on Engage with Grace.
Published On: November 12, 2008