For those of us over 60, the traditional notion of taking time for “life” planning has an added wrinkle. Yes, we still need to pay attention to engaging usefully and meaningfully in the world–perhaps even doing what we love while we have energy and interest. Yes, we still need to maintain our health and manage our financial security. Yes, we need to reflect on how we might manifest the many other elements that fulfill our own definitions of life satisfaction. But for those over 60, for whom a glimpse of mortality has entered the realm of the ponderables, there’s something more for which to plan. We need to plan for life quality and care at our inevitable ends, just as thoughtfully as for all of the rest of what we want.
And so, recently, I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon learning more about this new wrinkle to the notion of “life” planning.
The end-of-life conversation both with ourselves and with our families is a different kind of conversation than the early career conversations with our parents, or the family planning conversations with our spouses, or the career conversations with our children. For many, talking about our inevitable death, and our end of life time, is uncomfortable. For so many reasons. Even for those who realize that talking about death doesn’t make you dead, any more than talking about sex makes you pregnant.
I come from a family where my Mom talked about her end of life wishes frequently, shared her ideas with all her children, and actually achieved her goal for the death she wanted. Her pre-planning was impeccable to the extent that our major task at the end was disposing of personal items in her very small studio apartment.
My upbringing and experience may have been unique. While I am grateful for that, I’m discovering that for many families this conversation is not easy. Jumping into the topic, and doing some advance exploration with those who are conversationally comfortable, make it less difficult.
These exploratory conversations are increasingly available, free, and open to the public. On this particular Sunday afternoon, I joined Lisa Ahbel, RN, hospice and dementia care nurse, at a public presentation on “advance directives” at a local nursing home. She explained the importance of the health care proxy, and detailed the conversations we need to have with ourselves and our families, while we are still able, in order to assure maximum comfort and minimum misery at the end of life.
It’s becoming clear to me that a little bit of advance planning provides the peace of mind to live well until the end.
Resource: If this is something that you are ready to learn about, here’s a way: the Five Wishes approach introduces you to the conversation with yourself about what you want in your later years. View the sample and order your own copy at Aging with Dignity.org.