Planning for Death
Today’s guest post is from Christopher White. Christopher resides in Australia with his pug “Freddy”.
I am 64 years old, have led a healthy life, don’t smoke, enjoy a drink occasionally and I tend to avoid stress. I have never married, no kids, have a great family, and life is pretty well perfect. I have many wonderful friends and no enemies.
I began to feel unwell in about June this year – just vague feelings of not being at my best. My health became progressively worse, despite monthly attendances at my local doctor, who had been taking regular blood tests. One month ago I went to see him, I lay on his couch and he tapped two fingers into my abdomen area. I couldn’t believe the pain – he said “There’s something wrong here, you better get to the hospital straight away.” I had a mate deliver me to the local town hospital. He said on the way “They are going to ask you what your allergies are. Tell them you are allergic to big women with tattoos.”
Admitted through the emergency department, rushed into the scanning and X-ray departments, transferred by ambulance to another hospital about 50kms north, where I was taken in for an emergency operation.
When I came around, several hours later, the doctor told me they had removed about 40cm of cancerous growth in the intestines – he called it a bowel resectment. I spent 16 days in the intensive care recovery until, very well tended by both medical staff and the nursing team. Some of the other patients were a different story – I am unused to spending sleeping time with others, with their snoring, loud mobile phone conversations at all times of the day and night and people just being plain rude to each other. “Hey nurse – where’s my bloody pain killer – should have been here half an hour ago?”
When a nurse asked me how I had slept, I said that the snoring from across the passage was like “listening to a rainforest being destroyed.” I suggested that, armed with a baseball bat, some of us in the ICU would have got a lot more sleep, and that business may have been a bit brisker downstairs in the emergency admissions department.” She laughed, a bit, and said “You will recover quickly – grumpy old men always do better.” I am also pleased I did not pass on anything about being allergic to large women with tattoos, as this was an accurate description of most of those taking my blood and doing other tests.
The medical team have advised me to have lots more tests later in the year, to make sure all the cancer has been removed. One man even said “You might get better, or you might die – it is hard to say at this stage.”
I had plenty of time to think about things, stuck there in my little calico cubicle. I managed to blot out the neighbouring surroundings, and just had a really good think about things in general. I have had a very easy life – never been involved in a war, feuds, arguments. I have never had to work too hard, things have come easily to me. Always enjoyed good health – hardly ever had an unhealthy day in my life. I thoroughly enjoy my job, which involves running a small B&B here in a beautiful part of the world.
In a way, my life has been like attending a pleasant party, when one of the ushers taps me on the shoulder and says “OK mate, your time is up and you have to leave.” My first reaction is to say “Well, thanks for having me, which is the easiest way out?” I have never felt anger, betrayal, denial or “Why me? I don’t deserve this.” Instead, I have a serene feeling of relief and acceptance.
I see clearly the advantages of early checkout. OK, 64 is a bit early, but when is really the right time? There will be no Alzheimers Disease, no lonely old age in some grey nursing home, being fed on paste, and having someone else attend to my bathroom needs. No eccentric old man living in a boarded up house in unhealthy conditions, smelling of cat urine. I have few regrets – one of the main ones is leaving my two year old Pug dog Freddy, even though I know he is being left in the best of care.
If the cancer has spread, or returned, I reckon I have about nine months to prepare for the end. I am very fortunate to have a great friend to look after me, cooking, cleaning, company, transport etc. I am very grateful that I do not have a thing to worry about. This is more than long enough to get my affairs in order – most of that has already been done. I am glad there are no awkward reconciliations to endure. I await my own change of cosmic address with a good deal of interest.
Despite all the negativity and divisiveness I’ve witnessed on social media concerning Brittany Maynard’s decision, I can’t help but think that she’s performed a modern day miracle: She’s enabled a large scale death conversation. She’s enabled us to think about end-of-life decisions. And hopefully, she’s inspired us to think about our own mortality.
Like with anything powerful, there’s always the danger of it being abused. And this conversation – the conversation about Brittany’s choice – is incredibly powerful. The abuse of the conversation looks like this: judgment towards Brittany Maynard. Let’s be clear. Brittany Maynard is dead. No amount of judgment will bring her back or reverse her decision.
You can disagree with her decision. That’s fine. In fact, that’s the point. The point is NOT for you sit by and ignore the Brittany Maynard conversation with formulaic clichés; the point is for you to deal with these thoughts internally … to let them settle into your being and find a home. The point is for you to think about how you want to die and what you would do if you found out that you were terminal. You’ll kill this very valuable conversation by getting stuck in judgment instead of asking yourself some very important questions.
Her death, whether you agree with it or not, has provided you with an opportunity to grab ahold of the end-of-life conversation, and help create a future for yourself where you know what YOU want.
Do you want palliative care?
Hospice care is a fantastic way of bringing terminally ill patients home while simultaneously relieving their physical and emotional pain through various forms of care. Is that something you want?
Do you want “death with dignity” laws in your state?
As of today, only Oregon, Washington and Vermont have “death with dignity” laws. If this is something you’re pro or against, it’s time to start voicing your opinion; and make sure you have legitimate reasons behind your opinion.
Have you thought about a living will?
Do you want to die with tubes hooked into your body, being sustained indefinitely by machines while your unconscious body lives on in a semi vegetative state? I don’t. And I’ve made it clear that I don’t. If you want the cyborg death and you don’t want anyone “pulling the plugs”, that’s fine … but either way you should probably make it official by creating a LIVING WILL.
At what point will you say, “I’m done with the medical ‘miracles’ and I’m ready to die”?
Perhaps one day you’ll be under dialysis, or have cancer that “might” be able to be fought through an undetermined amount of chemotherapy. How much are willing to tolerate? At what point are you ready to say, “enough is enough”?
If we look to answer these questions and refrain from judging Brittany’s very personal decision, value will come from Brittany’s death … and not more divisiveness. Because, according to Gallop, this issue IS the most divisive issue in America. It’s more divisive than abortion. It’s more divisive than LGBTQ rights.
And this is the reason it’s so divisive: we’ve given such little thought to end-of-life decisions that when we talk about “death with dignity” our reactions are almost entirely emotional. We react entirely out of anger, or compassion and we have little to say in the vein of reason. We talk about “slippery slope” or we use the “God argument” or we harken back to how we put down our dog when the dog couldn’t walk anymore (which really isn’t helpful to compare people to animals).
As I — and many others — have said, most Americans obsessively attempt to deny their own mortality. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross writes in “Death: The Final Stage”:
Dying is an integral part of life, as natural and predictable as being born. But whereas birth is cause for celebration, death has become a dreaded and unspeakable issue to be avoided by every means possible in our modern society. … It is difficult to accept death in this society because it is unfamiliar. In spite of the fact that it happens all the time, we never see it. When a person dies in a hospital, he is quickly whisked away; a magical disappearing act does away with the evidence before it could upset anyone. … But if we can learn to view death from a different perspective, to reintroduce it into our lives so that it comes not as a dreaded stranger but as an expected companion to our life, then we can also learn to live our lives with meaning— with full appreciation of our finiteness, of the limits on our time here.
Where does the end-of-life conversation go from here … after Brittany Maynard? I don’t know. Nobody knows. Because the conversation is partially up to you and me. Do we let the conversation die in judgment and emotions? Or do we take the stage that Brittany’s death created and talk about something we rarely talk about? Can we learn to make death the “expected companion”? I hope we take the stage. I hope we share. I hope we embrace mortality and the life that comes with it.
One. Paul Blart.
Two weeks ago we had a family that was verbally fighting over “what mom wants” for her funeral. The fighting got so intense that one side actually brought a security guard with them to the funeral.
Don’t have Paul Blart security guards at your funeral. Determine what you want at your funeral now so your family doesn’t fight over it later.
Two. The Cyborg Death.
Thinking about your death now, also makes us think about how we die. Do you want to die with tubes hooked into your body, being sustained indefinitely by machines while your body lives on in a semi vegetative state? I don’t. And I’ve made it clear that I don’t. If you want the cyborg death and you don’t want anyone “pulling the plugs”, that’s fine … but either way you should probably make it official by creating a LIVING WILL.
Three. Breast Augmentation.
That legal document (called “a will” or “testament”) that makes sure your stuff doesn’t somehow end up funding your ex-husband’s new trophy wife’s breast augmentation is important to do BEFORE you die.
Four. Your debts don’t pay off themselves.
And if all the stuff you have is debt and darkness and you don’t want to leave your parents paying for your college or your children paying for your house, you may want to think about term life insurance. Unlike General Motors, you don’t receive a bailout when you die.
Five. Because you don’t know the difference between an executor and a power of attorney.
Six. The Stupid Tax.
Because the less you think about death (your own death and the death of your loved ones), the more likely you’ll be hit hard with the stupid tax.
The stupid tax applies to funerals: Did you know that if you can save money by planning for a natural burial and/or a home funeral?
Eight. You Can Be a neo-Zombie.
One organ donor can save up to eight lives. So, be an organ donor and pieces of you will be walking around long after you’re gone. You’ll be like a Zombie, but a living one … which is cooler. It’s like a neo-Zombie.
Nine. Fido Doesn’t Want to be Euthanized
You have godparents for your kids. But do you have godparents for your pets? Make sure someone is there to take care of your animals because if no one steps up they could go to the rescue. And while nobody at the rescue wants to euthanize Fido, sometimes it has to happen.
Ten. Dying Makes You Drunk
I know. You’re not dying right now. And Death probably isn’t scheduled into your calendar anytime soon. But you think, “I’ll probably die of cancer at an older age and then I’ll get my house in order. I’ll write my will, I’ll determine my Living Will, I’ll name my power of attorney and executor, I’ll make my prearrangements for my funeral, etc. etc.”
There’s a slight problem with that line of thinking. Dying kind of makes you drunk. Not drunk in the “let’s have a good time” sense, but drunk in the “I really shouldn’t be making big decisions right now” sense. Dying often changes us. And it often prompts us to make less than objective decisions.
So, if you want to leave all those big decisions up to drunk you, go ahead. Just let me know, so I can take your money. Bwhahahaha.
Because the more you think about death, the more you realize that all of this has an end. And the more you realize that you, your parents, you friends and your family will eventually die, the more you can embrace this precious thing called life.
By embracing death, we embrace life.
Today’s guest post is written by Samantha Allington:
I have just been diagnosed with Left Ventricular Diastolic Dysfunction, a cardiac disorder that has a life expectancy of 7.1 years on average. I’ve only just had the diagnosis and have not been given my prognosis yet, but have been doing a lot of my own research. I have asked for a second opinion and referral to the best cardiac unit in the country and all prospective treatment is pretty much all theory as there hasn’t been much research previously.
I’ve started planning my own funeral and already discussing this with Ann, who organised my daughter and my triplets funerals. I love Ann and she’s the only person I can imagine sorting my funeral out, the only person I trust. In a way I guess this is more than most people can ask for.
I’m a 35 year old newly married mother of four girls. I only met my husband last year after getting out of a 6 year abusive and violent relationship. Life was just beginning for me after a lifetime of trauma. After being with my husband just over 18 months I was beginning to allow the walls to come down, to relax and to trust and believe in him and our relationship. I was just allowing myself to start really enjoying being with the man I love. We’ve only had 2 weekends alone since we got together, without the children. The first time was earlier this year for our first wedding anniversary when I was miscarrying with my triplets at just over 11 weeks gestation, and the second was 2 weeks ago when we went away for his birthday. It was a wonderful weekend although I still missed the children.
I have a difficult relationship with my own parents although after 6 years of being estranged from my mother I have recently got in touch with her and spending more time together, and no extended family that we have contact with besides family in Norway. My husband has a strained relationship with his parents also and I don’t get along with his mother at all. He has one brother he gets on with and one he doesn’t talk to. He had another brother he lost. My four daughters are his step children, we were trying for a baby of our own until we got the news the last few days, and our dreams have been crushed. Neither of us works due to my disabilities and him being a full time stay at home carer to me, although I’ve dedicated the past couple of years to doing a lot of fundraising for charity and running a support group for bereaved parents and families who have lost a child.
My husband has dealt with lifetime trauma himself too. It’s due to all these combined difficult and complex circumstances that I feel I need to plan so much for when I die to try to make things a little easier for them all when I have gone.
I don’t want to just fade away; I want to tell my story to someone, somewhere. I would like to start summarizing the past as shortly as I can and then post updates of progress, planning my children’s life after mummy, the funeral etc…I want to try to make the most of what I have left and will be trying to spend as much time building memories for my children, writing a small book for them of things I would want to say to them at each milestone, good memories we shared, memories of the proud moments I had of them etc…So I’ll be trying my best to remain positive as I don’t feel I can ruin what little time we have left by negativity but of course there might be down times where I would like to share how I am feeling, what’s going through my mind. Updates on hospital appointments, news etc…
At times my writing may seem fractured; sometimes my spiritual beliefs may yoyo between one thought or another. Sometimes I’ll write like I do here and others may be in a diary excerpt style. Sometimes my writing will be descriptive of emotions and feelings, fears and dreams. At times it will be emotive and others more factual based or analytical. What I promise is not to hold back and to be as open, frank and honest as I can be.
Most importantly I hope to inspire someone, help someone who might have gone through this with their own parents or family member or someone who’s been diagnosed with a chronic and progressive or terminal illness. Perhaps one day my own children will sit and read this all and it might help them.
What I want to come out of this is a message of staying strong, standing together united as a family, not giving up and most importantly a message of love and what is truly important in life.
I welcome comments and opinions but I ask respectfully for no prayers. At this stage of my diagnosis/life I am torn between hoping God doesn’t exist but unsure of his existence and being very angry at God if he does exist and so I find offers of prayer upsetting, hurtful and offensive. That is not to say I disregard or disrespect your own beliefs just that I find it difficult in my own life right now. Religion has for a long time been at times very triggering for my mental state due to my religious upbringing although religion, god, spirituality I’m sure will be a topic of discussion at times as it’s hard to avoid when talking about death.
For most people, planning for death isn’t their choice way of spending an afternoon. Most people avoid the thought altogether, until they get older and accept death as just another part of life. As most people know, your death doesn’t only affect you; it affects everyone that you surround yourself with, and it’s important that you leave this world on good terms. There are many ways to make amends with your loved ones before passing, but of these things are a few that stand out above the rest.
All fuzzy feelings aside, preparing yourself and your family financially for death is one of the most important things you can do with your last remaining years. There is a list a mile long of ways to ready yourself and your loved ones for your passing, and it’s crucial that you square as much of it away as you can beforehand. Death comes quick, and if you aren’t ready, it can wreak havoc on your finances.
Funeral plan insurance from GIO and other similar companies can be beneficial in paying off funeral costs, debts and any other expenses during the grieving process.
Drawing up a will as far in advance is possible is highly recommended as a way to settle disputes over your estate and assets upon dying.
The earlier you start planning, the more money you’ll have to leave for your family. For those that don’t plan, expect over 40% of your assets to be claimed by taxes.
Death is a scary, confusing thing for everyone involved. It takes years to understand, and even as you near your death bed, there are countless questions to be asked. During this time, for your sake, and the sake of those around you, opening a dialogue about death can help ease the tension. It may be a fearful time, but it’s also a time where you can speak freely and grow even closer to the people in your life.
Having the talk isn’t easy for anyone, but only you can speak to what you’re going through. So, use this as an opportunity to tell people how you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing.
If anyone has questions about death, answer thoughtfully and insightfully. Unless there’s someone you know dying right next to you, you’re the authority on death and can therefore offer insight as to what it feels like.
Always remember to be open-minded, and encourage your loved ones to be as well. Discussion is important, but it also needs to be respectful.
It may sound cliché, but as death looms, it’s up to you to make peace with yourself and others. The concept itself is very vague and subjective, but it is an important part of the process nonetheless. Although easy to take for granted, making peace offers an opportunity to both atone for possible wrongdoings in the past and to celebrate all the joys that you experienced in your life.
There’s not a particular right or wrong way to make peace. It’s mostly about acceptance of the inevitable by all parties.
Before you can really make peace with yourself, you have to make peace with other people. This can be your immediate family, friends or even people from your past that you haven’t connected with in a long time.
If there are bridges you have burned, building them back up to reconnect with people is important as you break on through to the other side. Don’t overextend yourself, but think back on how you have affected other people’s lives and reach out to those that you have influenced the most, and those that have been influenced by you.
Death is one of the most terrifying aspects of being a human being. No one wants to go through it, but unfortunately, it’s more inevitable than you think. So, before you croak, make sure that you’re taken care of, and more importantly, that those around you are taken care of. You only have so much life to live, but if you make the best of it, you’ll be able to live on forever as a memory.
Today’s guest post is from Chris Jensen. Chris is a freelance writer and life insurance adviser. His family means the world to him and he’ll do anything to ensure a bright future for them.