If you are reading this, then you have probably had someone, at some point, say to you “Preplanning is the kindest thing that can be done for one’s loved ones.” From my experience, that conversation, unpleasant as it may be, cannot happen too soon.
Yes, you do want to talk with a lawyer.
Yes, you do want to have your affairs in order, including advanced medical directive, power of attorney, and estate planning.
Yes, you do want to make arrangements for a final resting place.
Why do this now? Why put yourself and your spouse through that stress? Might so doing imply that you are uncertain of the outcome, or that your hope waivers?
The reason that you want do this now, is that if you don’t, by the time you need to with any urgency, you may not be in any kind of emotional shape to do so, let alone having the actual time. From my experience, the process is not nearly as painful as one would expect, although it does require some tough conversations, and is not as time consuming as one would expect if one works with a specialist.
When Dear Husband got sick, and it was clear that his illness wasn’t going to be a flash in the pan, we made an appointment with a lawyer recommended by a friend to have it all worked through. DH had been diagnosed almost a year before, so in retrospect, this is a conversation we could have had even sooner. A good time to have this conversation would have been before we got married, or at least after we had bought our house. What prompted this was the recognition that there were some differences in preference between his family norm and what were his wishes for a final resting place. While we knew that his parents would ultimately be supportive of whatever decisions he would make, we did not want there to be any issue or concern.
In looking back, I consider this appointment with the lawyer an incredible act of generosity and kindness on his part. By taking the time to fill out papers specifying all of his wishes – whether or not to be intubated, to be on life support, for how long and under what circumstances – clarifying all of these details meant that when the time came for this plan to be put into action, there were no questions. I knew what he wanted because he had said so, in writing.
When DH went into ICU the weekend that he died, I asked the lawyer to send a copy of his advanced medical directive and power of attorney to the hospital right away. I was so relieved that we had hired a lawyer who could be at our beck and call in the time of need. This was a benefit of hiring someone, but I recognize that we could have saved a lot of money and done this ourselves, too. When it came time to enforce the decisions at the hospital, the incredibly hard decisions, the decisions that still upset me when I think about them from their sheer profundity, the hard choices had already been made. Even though DH’s wishes were in writing, I am telling you here and now that it was nearly impossible to vocalize them to the doctors because in that moment I would have done anything in the world to keep him alive. If the plans had not been in writing, I don’t think I would have had the courage to tell the doctors where the line was in terms of what they could and could not to do keep him alive and comfortable.
After he died, I knew what steps needed to be taken from our preplanning. Before I left the hospital, many of the necessary phone calls were made.
I have now been a cancer mentor for others who did not plan in advance. It’s not that when the planning didn’t happen that things were awful – it’s just that it became one more stressful thing to think about when one really just wants to crawl into the fetal position for a while.
This post was one of the hardest posts to write – I feel it is important, because it is now something I wish I had done even earlier in his illness, and I meet so many others who were caregivers or are now widows who wish they had pre-planned as well. Part of the difficulty was sharing the urgency I feel without lecturing, and respecting DH’s privacy in how I wrote about his choices. One of DH’s concerns when I began this blog was that it shouldn’t distract me from my task of caregiving, and that our privacy would be protected. I would like to think that I have been successful in both tasks.
If you are reading this, and are yourself in the difficult caregiving place, I hope these words have helped you.