My mother acted as primary caretaker and decision maker during her sister’s decline in health and memory. We watched how agonizing it was for my mother to make decisions without knowing what her sister would have wanted; we sorrowed as our aunt was subjected to invasive medical procedures at end of life that my mother couldn’t prevent without an advanced directive. My aunt wasn’t coherent enough to complete the paperwork herself by then.
After her sister died, my brothers and I sat down with my mom and helped her complete her own Five Wishes advance care directive. It was almost too late. She was starting to lose her own memory and didn’t always understand why we were forcing her into this process. That in turn made me determined to produce my own Five Wishes document immediately, so when I returned home, I sat down with my daughters as we made our way through the document and talked about my wishes for end of life.
I think, at the time, my daughters mostly thought the process was distant and abstract. Almost amusing. But this week, less so, because I brought it up again. I’d read an article about intubation for covid19 and the poor survival rate for people my age, and thought I better talk to them again. Over dinner, we began the conversation. It was difficult, full of tears, and all too real this time through. My daughters and I all took turns crying, as we spoke about our feelings and I asked them to please tell me their wishes, if they were to be stricken with the coronavirus. They all had different thoughts, and were less certain about their ability to carry out my wishes faced with a much stronger sense of possibility.
It’s not an easy conversation at the best of times, but faced with a rising death rate in our world, in our country, in our county, around the dinner table that evening it felt insurmountable. I cried at the thought of not being able to stay with them in the hospital if they needed that level of care. My tears made all three of them start. One daughter cried and told me she still needed me too much for me to die. Another cried at the thought of being the designated decision maker, even though she knows and admits that she is the toughest of the three sisters and the most likely to be able to make tough decisions on my behalf. And even though we talked through how to ask for guidance from the physicians, all three daughters are now much more determined to not allow me out of the house until all the risk is gone. And that in itself is an overwhelming thought.
At the risk of appearing morbid, now is the time for us to engage in this conversation with our loved ones, no matter our age. The covid19 virus (and other causes of death) doesn’t only strike elders. We may not have sufficient warning when we are facing life-threatening conditions. These conversations are difficult at the best of times; much worse in the middle of a crisis.
Rev. Paige and I would like to offer a two workshop series on end of life decisions, to help all of you through this process. In the first workshop, we will work through the Speak(easy) Howard conversation kit, which helps us prepare to have a conversation. In the second workshop, we will work through the Five Wishes document that outlines our advance directive instructions, step by step.
We plan to offer the series in May; your registration will help us pick the best time to offer the workshops. These will be online zoom conversations, and instructions will be sent once we make a decision on the time and day. If you are interested in joining the conversation, please register by clicking on this link.
For now, Five Wishes is offering free printable copies of their Five Wishes document. Click here to download a copy of the paperwork you will need.
My hope for all of us is that we need not use our five wishes for many years. May our hearts feel safe and loved, may our beloveds feel safe and loved, my our bodies and minds and souls stay strong and healthy.