Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Elephant in the Room

I want to address an elephant in the room, an elephant that for some can be so massive it squeezes the breath from your chest and takes any words you might want to say.  This elephant is "death".

As creatures on this earth, and especially in this current society, we often act like we will go on continuously for an indeterminate amount of time.  Almost as if we truly believe that death will never come for us, or even if we know that death will come, that it is so far removed we need not think or address the issue.  However, in the back of our mind, in the furthest recess of our conscious thought, we know that death will come and can come around any corner at any moment.

The reason I want to address this issue is because death has come knocking on doors that were close to me and now that I am older, I find myself in positions in which I must deal with death differently.  Not the emotional, grieving, welling of sadness part that we all have to deal with at various times.  That is an experience that we will all have, even several times, in our life.  No, this is the other part, the logistical part, the decision making part.

We avoid these conversations with our loved ones because the thought that some day they will no longer be in our lives is difficult to think of. We avoid it because it is hard to have these conversations. I say to you now- be brave and start these conversations while you can still have them.  I say this because if you do not, then you find yourself in a position where your grief is compounded by doubt in our attempts to honor those loved ones who are gone.

It is our responsibility, our duty to our loved ones to ease the process of dealing with death.  Our loved ones should be able to focus on their grief and deal with that.  However, if we have not had those conversations about our wishes of how we want the end of our life to be handled then we are setting up our loved ones for additional pain, and anguish as they try to figure out what we would want.  We often don't even think to have these conversations until there is a medical situation where doctors tell us that it is just a matter of time, and often then our loved ones are no longer able to have those conversations about death with us.

It will not be an easy conversation to start or have but it is one that is important and can be very meaningful.  It is true, that even if we openly have these conversations with our loved ones there can still arise situations that we could never have foreseen or even imagined. However, by at least having had some discussion about our loved ones wishes, we will have a better informed idea of what they would most likely want in those scenarios we could not foresee.

These are just some general things that I have come to realize it would be good to know about my loved ones and "death".  I offer them up here in the hopes that you might find some helpful places to start these conversations with your loved ones. This is not a definitive list, but rather a good place to start.

The Funeral aspect:
Preferred funeral home? Have you already made some arrangements?
           Burial or Cremation?  Type of casket or urn?
Obituary- Who should write it?
           What should it cover? Where would you like it published (which papers)?
What kind of services would you want for your funeral?
       Music, Sermons, bible passages, friends or family to speak, church?
       Outfit you would like to wear? Pictures Displayed? Flowers?
        Memorial contributions?
Where would you like your final resting place to be?
        Cemetery? Do you have a plot already? Scattered Ashes? Headstone style and what would you
         like on it?

These are all things that your loved ones will have to decide on when you are gone.  Some may seem silly details, but you would not believe how agonizing even just choosing a burial outfit can be for your loved ones in that moment. There are also some other things to consider discussing if you feel that you can.  These are in many ways more difficult questions but in some cases easier to discuss.

End of Life Questions:
Medical decisions- who should make these if you are unable to do so?
         Life Support? Heroic medical measures? Surgeries? Organ Donation?
Care Decisions-  who should make these decisions and how will the financial part be handled?
         Preferred nursing homes? In home care?

Most of our financial and logistical aspects of our lives after we are gone is handled through legal aspects like wills and laws that regulate division of money/property after death.  While these aspects can still be difficult (especially if there is no will left by the deceased) there are clearer guidelines for these things and they typically aren't handled until sometime has passed after the death.  That means that when we are dealing with those aspects we often have had some time to actually grieve.  

Death is a natural part of life that we all will eventually deal with.  Shouldn't we strive to allow our families, friends and loved ones to focus on their grief of our loss rather than having to guess on the logistics we would prefer but we never told them about.  This is not a conversation to be put off, but if you just can't bring yourself to sit down and talk about it, then write out your wishes.  Write a letter or a list of details, print it out if you type it and put it in a sealed envelope addressed to the person or people who will be dealing with these things.  Give them the envelope and tell them what is inside.  Then they at least have the information; if they read it then, they can still ask you questions to clarify or expand their knowledge, but if they don't feel they can read it then, they at least can know that they have a guideline about your wishes.

DO NOT PUT THIS OFF. This is time well spent and it is important. Have this conversation with your loved ones. Sit down and write out your thoughts.  Do it now while you are of sound mind and body.  Death will eventually come for each of us, but rarely do any of us know exactly when that may be which is why this can be such a hard thing to discuss.  However, it will come and we know it; so it is important that we get over our fear and help our loved ones so that when the time comes it will not cause our loved ones anymore strife or pain than it has to.  I think that is what makes this so important and worthwhile.