The Importance of End of Life Planning

Ann Bartlett Health Guide
  • This past month, I’ve had two situations which left me with a deep heartache, a 32 year yoga student in my class was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and the other was another yoga student who lost her 47 year old husband to the complications of a severe stroke, the week before Thanksgiving. It not only brought grief, but it brought awareness of my own end of life reality. 

    My parents have been great examples of the effect their choices had on my brothers and I.  When my father passed away very suddenly in 1989, there were 3 wills left in his safety deposit box, accounts to close, a home to sell and a funeral to plan.  My father had not left clear decisions about where he wanted to be buried, what type of service, and in all 3 wills property items were different.  For us his children, and my mother who had been separated from my dad for 8 years, we had to make the best decisions we could, based off of knowing his personality.  It was hard for my brothers and I, as we were in a state of shock and grief and the task of closing out our childhood home added to the stress of it all.  My mom shouldered much of the responsibility for the funeral, memorial service, and never left our side through the unduanting task of closing out the paper trail for what had been my father’s life.

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    In response, my mother embraced the devastated looks of her children and took a different approach.  She has prepaid her own funeral, gave us each a copy of her will and moved into a retirement community, Kendal, that has independent, assisted living and full nursing care with full medical care all on the same property.  Kendal requires living wills and all paperwork regarding your end of life wishes to be filed with them beofre you move and documentation is stored with them. 

    While living at Kendal, her life there has been full and busy, until September of this year when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  For my brothers and I, this situation is not on our plate of responsibility.  Her care is better than we could have hoped for and therefore our visits with her are focused on being with mom.

    Since she has been living at Kendal for 10 years, she is very familiar and comfortable with the community and grounds.  On days of confusion she is in good care with people who have known her for most of those 10 years.  Kendal medical staff calls my brother to keep us informed of medication and the status of her condition.  My time with my mom is exactly what it needs to be, time together walking and sharing, enjoying the mother daughter relationship until the disease takes it away.  I am so grateful to her kind act of having thought about her children with such devotion that we have nothing to do expect enjoy our time with her.

    Current statistics show that two thirds of Americans would prefer to die at home, yet 50 percent will die in a hospital.  If most of us don’t want to die in a hospital, then why are we?  Because we haven’t had the conversation.

    Seven out of 10 of us will die from a chronic illness.  For those of living with a chronic illness, it becomes even more important to have the conversation, and at the minimum to make a healthcare proxy.

  • Engage with Grace is a valuable tool for encouraging that end of life discussion.  It is five questions that could make a huge difference for famlies and loved ones!  Engage with Grace/The One Slide Project is a California-based initiative to create a viral marketing campaign aimed at getting Americans to talk about end of life issues with their families and loved ones.  I urge all of us with diabetes, type 1 and type 2, to register and answer the five questions and share them with your family and loved ones!

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    For another real-life account of discussing end of life issues, read breast cancer survivor PJ Hamel's post on Engage With Grace.

Published On: November 27, 2008