Building your support team for aging: Part three
by Sharon Simpson
In this third part, we look at planning for your end-of-life decisions and the spiritual support you need to finish well as you seek to be faithful and obedient to the Lord until He calls you home.
The good news for those of us who have spent time in the church is that the looking-forward theology of salvation, heaven and a personal relationship with God through Christ, has rightly broken down some of the fears that exist in our culture around dying, death, grieving and loss. For years, we have been singing hymns and reading Scripture that guide our focus to the eternal. Whether you know it or not, this is a blessing. A door is opened to talk more freely about the end of life.
Power of Attorney and Health Representative
In British Columbia, there are two legal representatives that you need to put into place to direct affairs while you are alive – your Power of Attorney and your Health Representative. You can do this through a lawyer or a notary public. The Power of Attorney makes financial decisions, on your behalf, if you are no longer able to do so. They do this only while you are alive. Your Health Representative makes medical decisions, on your behalf, if you are unable and, they too, only do this while you are alive.What happens when you die? Can the Power of Attorney divvy out your estate? The answer is no. You’ll need a third role to do that. This is the role of Executor. The moment that you pass away, the Executor is now the legal entity who manages your affairs.
There are many considerations for you as you plan for these three roles to be filled. You may choose the same individual for all three roles. You may choose three separate individuals. The key to the choosing is that you trust the people that you put into place. This is not simply an assignment of a role to an individual. The individual must know what you want done on your behalf in that role. For example, how do you want to use your money if you are unable to make a decision?
I once met with a family who decided against purchasing an expensive, custom-fitted electric wheelchair for their loved one. He was in his late 90’s and suffering from dementia. The $8,000+ price tag didn’t make sense to them. He endured several years of ill-fitting wheelchairs and discomfort. When I spoke with the family, it became apparent that he did have the funds, but they chose not to spend the money in this way. Was this what he would have wanted at his life’s end?
With your Power of Attorney, you need to go over your desires for how you want them to spend your money if you are no longer able to direct your own funds.
With your Health Representative, you need to go over your desires for how you want medical decisions to be made if you are not able to advise medical professionals. The best way to do this is through a process called My Voice – Advanced Directives. This workbook gives you scenarios to spark your thoughts about your preferences. For example, if you say “Do Not Resuscitate”, what do you mean in each of these possibilities?
– You are having a knee replacement surgery and your heart stops while you are on the operating table. Should you be resuscitated?
– You have a massive stroke that completely incapacitates you. Your heart stops three days later while you are in ICU. Should you be resuscitated?
For many, there are strong feelings that they would like to survive their knee replacement but would not like to be resuscitated after a massive stroke. A ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order doesn’t allow for these types of nuances. You would not survive the knee replacement. The My Voice – Advanced Directives outlines what you want in specific scenarios.
How will paramedics know what you want when they arrive at your home to care for you in the event of an emergency? If you are unable to express your desires, they will do everything in their capacity to save your life. In the first several minutes after arrival, the paramedics will look for documentation about your wishes. They are looking for a small green folder that is magnetically attached to your refrigerator. This is called the Greensleeve. In this folder, your wishes and your medications are expressed in note form. This is a summary of your decisions made in the Advanced Directives. It gives paramedics the legal path to follow your wishes.
If you are given a diagnosis that gives you an end-point for your life, or you need 24/7 care support in a care home, you will be encouraged to fill out a MOST form (Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment). This is a very specific document around medical intervention, pain management and heroic measures in your medical care. It is to be filled out with the support and witness of your physician. This can be very difficult for yourself and your family to manage. Do not hesitate to call upon the support of your spiritual community or a counsellor to help you navigate the form, family communication, and expectations of all who love you.
With your Executor of your will, you need to go over your desires for your estate. This is what your stuff is called after you die. How do you want your monies and possessions distributed? Do you want a funeral, a celebration of life or nothing? What is your plan for generosity after you pass away?
For many who have lived average lives, the word ‘estate’ feels like a mis-labelling. Aren’t estates for the wealthy? No. Everyone has an estate. It simply means all of the earthly possessions that you have (money, things, debt) after you pass away. For those of you who own a home, you are not going to liquidate your home while you are living, but it is likely that there will be a significant amount of money to distribute upon the sale of your home once you pass away.
When you think of the generosity of your estate, consider who, and how your own life was formed. Who has given you teaching, training, friendship, compassion? Where did you spend your time and resources in your life? Consider an ongoing scholarship to a school, a significant gift to your home church, an enduring gift to a mission agency or a missionary you have supported. Be creative. Invite God into your decisions. Be kind. Be generous.
Initiative and courage
Do you know what it takes to put these three roles into place for yourself? Initiative and courage. It takes time and it takes some money. It takes conversation about difficult topics. It may even take a toll on family relationships. This is not for the faint of heart, but it is for everyone.
If you do nothing with these three roles, there are legal (painful and expensive) ways that your loved ones can manage your affairs. Without question, this will take a greater toll and be a greater burden on those around you than the conversations that you initiate while you are living and able. Most seniors I meet say this, “I don’t want to be a burden”. If that is true for you, you have this work to do while you can.
Spiritual and emotional support
Who can support you in moving forward in setting up these three key roles in your Aging Support Team? A lawyer, a notary public, a trusted friend, a child. You may also find support in your pastor. In fact, you should seek this kind of support. It isn’t easy and it isn’t simple to talk about yourself and your own death. You may be afraid (like all of us), you may have regrets (like all of us), you may be accustomed to self-sufficiency (like all of us) and the independence that you cherish. Courage takes support. Spiritual leaders and spiritual friends are key to that support in your life.
As you build your support team, pray that God will give you the strength and courage to look into the issues that surround your end-of-life. Pray for people to support you in your conversations and decision-making. Take a step. Google information. Make an appointment. Find the documents. Be prepared. And in all of this, do not be surprised at how God opens hearts, doors and relationships. He is a healer, a redeemer, a friend and a guide. He will take you where you fear to go and give you reprieve from that fear. He is your good Shepherd. You know His voice and you follow Him – even in these courageous conversations and decisions.
Sharon Simpson is the Director, Communications and Stakeholder Engagement at Menno Home.