Sunday, June 28, 2009

Some Practical Information: Plan? What Plan?

End of life planning is a complicated subject. Before I started living it, through my parents, it all seemed very scary and abstract--what does "incontinence" mean in real time? Watching them move into dementia-land, I've learned a lot about end of life planning, and how good planning can make for a good end of life for everyone involved. This is the first in a series of blogs exploring and dissecting a real person's end of life experience. Hopefully the knowledge I've learned will be more than just an interesting read.

Picture your ideal old age, and keep your options open. Back in the old days, both Manini and Fanini said that they didn't want to live in a retirement home. I think this was because their idea about nursing homes was based on the old Dickensian concept of nursing homes. They feared the nursing home, and closed their minds to this option. As I've learned, there are lots of variations of "nursing homes". There are co-housing type nursing homes, there are miniature city types of nursing homes. There's even a cruise ship nursing home. As the boomers age, I expect to see all kinds of wacky nursing homes: extreme sport nursing homes, anyone? Who knows what eldercare will look like in the future.

Death is unpredictable. Both my parents said that they would rather commit suicide than die crazy and infirm. Dementia made it so they were unable to take any steps to make that happen. They were at the mercy of their illness. Plus, since they both had dementia, the murder-suicide pact was no longer an option. What's your plan? Die at home surrounded by your loved ones? Keel over from a heart attack while climbing the Pyramid at Cheops? Maybe it will happen the way you want it too, but its probably a good idea to have a backup plan.

I don't want to be a burden on my children. So my parents always said, but they didn't make it happen. As a result, I've got a full-time job caring for my mom, which has had a huge impact on my life, my family, my marriage, etc. It breaks my heart to go see my dad, because he so desperately wants to go home, to be with his people. It hurts because I'm stretched to my limit and I can't solve this for him. My parents decided to go it alone, to not make a plan, and they set in motion the course they most wanted to avoid: to be the biggest burden and heartbreak of all.

Make it happen, start your plan now, write it down. I'd say death is even more inevitable than taxes. In fact, there's no guarantee you'll even make it to next April 15th! Procrastination and denial make it harder on you and your loved ones. Years ago, when my siblings and I were trying to convince my dad to make a will, I asked my dad about his end of life plans. He said, "I'm not going to make any plans, I'm just going to die and leave it all behind." Shocked, I shot back, "you mean, after you die you'd dump all that other stuff in my lap, at a time when I'll be so emotionally distraught I won't be able to think straight!?!" I've learned that end of life planning is a team sport, so enlist as many teammates as you can; children, friends, accountants, lawyers, doctors, etc. The more input, the more options you'll discover.

Next time, Part II: Who's Gonna Change My Diapers?

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