Life is full of choices. In looking at the choices of the senior generation, the number of things we must choose can be downright daunting. We should grow accustomed to the concept of making choices in the long course of our lives, but for some of us that never gets any easier. One consideration may be when should I retire? Can I afford to retire or should I drop back to part time employment. Right about age 50, we usually receive an invitation to become involved in AARP. It seems ironic that we receive that notice and yet for most of us retirement is still many years away. We often do not choose to think of ourselves as belonging to that “aging club” yet. We might be lured by the benefits in the way of discounts and deals. Hopefully, most of those choices are not made for us through layoffs and closures during these volatile economic times.
However, some choices we can initiate ahead of time are plans for our future aging in the way of health care, retirement savings, living expenses and the potential for physical decline. Many people in our health-conscious and death-denying culture like to think we will live forever. We don’t like to make choices ahead of the need for them. One important one that comes to mind is having a will. The rationale for having one is easy. The will determines whom we want to oversee and receive our worldly belongings after we die. It designates who is in charge of determining and dispersing our estate and does not necessitate a lawyer to be a legal document.
Another big one for me is a “living will”. It is called many things but basically it says what we want if still alive and unable to speak for oneself. So, basically it is directions for what you want for emergency care and potentially end of life care should that situation befall you. I am a little amused at how difficult that is for people to face. We don’t seem to flinch at all at making the choice to be “donors” should a catastrophic event occur. That seems to be quite concrete and not an agonizing prolonged decision. In fact, most of us automatically check the box at the DMV or in the license renewal paperwork. Yet the decision to state what our wishes are for our end of life care seems somehow very formidable. Occasionally I meet with people who are very clear and direct at how and what they want for their personal care at that time of life. I often wonder what in their lives sets them apart to be so decisive about those particular important decisions.
Another consideration is doing the work of communicating with one’s family doctor on what we want and how we want them to take care of us. That usually begins well in advance of our end of lifetime, yet should be on the radar for both the senior and the physician. If your doctor does not want to have that conversation or does not seem to have your best interests at heart, perhaps you should reconsider your options.
In her book The Etiquette of Illness Susan Halpern asserts, “to dare to talk about the end of life issues usually enhances the relationship of the listener and talker and allows each to live more fully until death comes.” She is talking about when illness has occurred and is advanced but the concept of open communication is appealing and rewarding.
As November, National Hospice Month, rolls around and we gather to give thanks for whatever in our lives we are personally thankful for, why not take this time to consider some of the important things that might be necessary in our near future and help those of us left to care for our needs. These decisions, just like donor donation are not set in stone and can be changed at any time, but even just thinking about them helps us to be reminded of our mortality. Putting this information on paper is the first step, the second one is just as important. We need to discuss the decisions with the ones we love and especially the ones who are left to carry it all out.