By Wendy McGovern
January 5, 2012
I love my job. As an editor of legal books and a nonlawyer, I learn so much from the books I work on, in all kinds of disciplines — everything from family law to workers’ compensation, legal writing, jury instructions, civil litigation and others. There is one, in particular, I have worked on lately that was of special interest to me.
In working on the first edition of a book we published on elder law a few years ago, I was impressed by the depth of the subject and the considerations that go into planning and caring for the needs of the elderly.
It wasn’t until we started updating the book recently that I fully understood and felt the impact of the authors’ subject matter.
As I read through the chapters again, it was like I was seeing the last few years of my mother’s life in detail. All of a sudden, I could relate to the information on Medicare, Medicaid, powers of attorney, living wills, estate planning and caring for someone who might have developed dementia or suffered from some debilitating condition.
My mother, who passed away a few months ago at age 90, had developed dementia in the last years of her life. She had been living alone in her home, but it became evident that she was becoming increasingly unable to care for herself.
Luckily, I come from a big family, and two of my brothers took the lead to secure power of attorney when we started to see the decline. I will be forever grateful to them for taking care of the legal and physical aspects of dealing with the paperwork and planning details, especially in having my mother define her wishes in a living will and do-not-resuscitate document while her dementia was fairly mild and she could make her wishes known.
In the end, those documents helped guide us in the difficult decisions we had to make as her health declined. As I read through the elder law book once again, I realized that the time to make plans for end-of-life care is now while I can clearly and rationally make my wishes known.
I don’t think I’m alone in the all-too-human tendency to procrastinate with things such as this. “One of these days, I’ll make a will. I’m only [insert age here] old.”
But how many of us have said to someone, “If I get hit by a truck tomorrow, the [insert item] is in the [insert location]”? Although most people think it will never happen to them, things such as car accidents or other events could leave a person in the position of having to have other people make hard decisions on how to care for them.
Although it would be more fun to spend time on a weekend or day off doing something enjoyable, I think I’m going to spend time thinking through the questions of what things I’ll need to have in place when I’m nearing the end of my life.
Who will take care of me if I have no children? Do I want to be kept alive by machines if there is no hope of recovery? Feeding tubes or no feeding tubes? Will my retirement funds outlast me? Who will wrest the keys from my stubborn grip when I should no longer drive?
So, I’m going to make an appointment this week to see a lawyer to draw up a will and living will, and a DNR (do-not-resuscitate order). One of the comforting things I learned from my editing is that the scary part of the DNR (“What if I said I wanted them to pull the plug, but I changed my mind and they could save me?”) is not set in stone and can be altered, depending on circumstances.
What is important is that the document gives the caregivers a guide as to what you as a person believe, your view of life and death, and what you consider an acceptable quality of life.
That’s my New Year’s resolution. Let’s hope that, after I finally get this out of the way, I won’t be needing those documents for a long, long time.