Want to give your loved ones a special gift? Then make what could be the most important decision of your life, so they won't have to.
For many, the big "D" word (and I don't mean Dallas or divorce) makes them cringe, cover their ears and start singing "la-la-la, I can't hear you." But face it: our death, our loved one dying, it's all part of life.
Just as we make decisions choosing the path we live on, we also have a right to decide how we don't want to live. Lately, several events have me considering what I consider quality of life.
First and with no place to run, my mother sent me living will papers from New York with a note saying to find out about getting South Carolina's papers. To some, this may seem a bit morbid. After all, I'm only 37. But with my mother, well, it's actually one of her wonderful saintly nurturing traits. See, she bought her burial plot years ago. In fact, her stone is there and we've even gone to visit the marble memorial and dance on her grave. (To terrible?) All kidding aside, the reason my mother plans ahead this way is because she doesn't want her five daughters to worry about all the arrangements, headaches and heartache, and costs associated with death. I appreciate this.
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Then, within a few days, I saw two television shows last week that I don't regularly watch focusing on end-of-life decisions. In one, "Eli Stone," the scene plays out like this:
"I don't want to get Terri Schiavoed," says Eli Stone (played by Johnny Lee Miller) referring to the now infamous case that drew national media attention and made legal history in 2005 of a woman who suffered brain damage and became dependent on a feeding tube. "I wish to be permitted to die."
Stone's friend and witness to his living will signing Taylor (played by Natasha Henstridge) responds: "You want us to witness your suicide note."
"It's a statement of my wishes,"Eli says.
"About how you want to die?" Taylor says.
"About how and under what circumstances I don't want to live," Eli says.
Finally, I received an e-mail about Decision Day being held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at Lake Wylie Retirement & Assisted Living. All signs say I need to fill out the paperwork for granting health care power of attorney and a living will (declaration of a desire for a natural death) so that my family and friends know my wishes should I be unable to tell them or the doctors.
It's not about my personal assets and material possessions, it's about my body and peace of mind. If tomorrow I'm in a car wreck or suffer injuries taking a fall off my horse, even though I've told my family and friends how I feel about living on life support, if I don't sign the documents a doctor will decide. Even if I don't want artificial nutrition and/or hydration, a doctor will do what he or she is trained to do, and that's keep me alive.
I sat down Thursday morning with Jennifer Davis-Peay of Lake Wylie Retirement and Grace Waddell of Agape Community Hospice to get more insight into Decision Day.
"The whole idea is advance directives for end-of-life care," Waddell said. "We want to encourage and assist anyone from age 21 on to sign these two pieces of paper."
It's also good to know you can change either at any time, and you don't have to hire a lawyer to make it legal. If you recently moved to South Carolina, it's a good idea to update your old papers, because medical laws differ by state.
Also at Decision Day, a personal affairs checklist will be given out to help locate important documents in the event of an emergency or unexpected medical situation. Does anyone know where your cemetery plot papers are? Your safe deposit box key? Insurance records?
Not only did both women share what they've seen in the workplace when families didn't discuss end-of-life decisions, but, through tears of heartache, they also shared personal experiences of making the selfless decision to do what a loved one wanted, or watching as a family fell apart into anger by confusion because each family member interpreted their dying loved one's wishes differently.
'The hardest thing is to honor what they have on paper," Waddell said. "We have a right to make our own decision, and respect others' decision."
By signing the papers and sharing our decision with our loved ones (and making copies), we are letting them know what we consider our quality of life.
"Try to make these decisions before you're faced with the crisis, accident, terminal illness," Waddell said. "The journey of dying is the hard part, but we can ease that journey a little bit and put energy into living."
Every person deserves the same rights and dignity. It may not be pleasant to face our mortality, but we should for our loved ones' sake.
On Thursday, Lake Wylie Retirement and Agape Hospice are available to give you the tools for giving your loved ones a special gift.