He died nearly alone, as he had lived. His cancer overwhelmed his body, and by the time he decided to allow treatment, doctors advised him it was too late. And so he went from the hospital to the hospice house where he only lasted a few short hours. A long-distant sister came to sit at his side in that last hour, but he was so heavily medicated, it was uncertain he even knew she had come from his home town. She had no idea he was ill until this last day. He had wanted his body to be donated to science in his home town, but without anyone knowing of that wish in time, provisions could not be made for those arrangements.
He was a man who chose with whom and where he socialized. He bragged about his solitary life, and so that is the way he died. He had few real friends; he depended upon semi- strangers to help near his ending. Now, family must pick up the loose ends of his life, and try to deal with what was left unfinished.
So how about your loose ends? Have you thought about your ending, and how you want you and your things handled? Have you written out any directions and told loved ones where they are and what you would like to have done? When the time comes, do you have a valid will completed and reviewed for accuracy and state conformity? If you are suddenly rushed to a hospital, do you have those powers of attorney and health care directives filled out and filed with your doctor and family? Did you decide who would become your advocate when and if you were unable to voice your wishes? Have you decided how much extraordinary treatment you want done on your behalf, including feeding tubes, artificial respiration, antibiotic therapies and more?
And what about copies of your important documents? Can family, or a trusted friend find where they are kept? How about insurance policies, life and home and auto, for example. Could they sell your car or would they be unable to find the title? Does someone besides you know the password to your computer and accounts? Can credit cards and checkbooks accessed for safe keeping? Is there a safe deposit box where valuables are kept? Can someone find a key or the name of the bank? Is there a safe in the home? Where could that combination be found? Does anyone know your last wishes and have the power to carry them out?
Living alone, either by choice or by chance, do you have a trusted neighbor or friend who stays in contact with you? Does someone have a key, or access to your home in case of some kind of emergency, perhaps the local police chief if you feel you have no one else to trust? Do you really prefer to be alone at the end of life or do you want family to be notified? What and when do you want them to know? Where can their contact numbers be found?
What is most important to you in the last phase of your life? Have you prepared a legitimate advanced directive order? Does someone know how you feel about medical care and the extremes to which you are willing to go under treatments? (The neighbor mentioned above decided much too late that he wanted to pursue the “poison, burn and slash” routines more commonly identified in cancer care as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.) Do you wish CPR and other extraordinary measures, or merely comfort care? Did you sign a DNR order (Do Not Resuscitate) in case of advanced illness or catastrophic injury? Do you keep it on your refrigerator in your home where Emergency Services know to look for one?
An interesting book on the recent best seller list is titled ‘The Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death by B.J. Miller and Shoshana Berger. Within the chapters is a guideline list of what to put in your “When I Die” file. The information is not meant to be maudlin or frightening, but rather to be helpful in providing what survivors will need when you aren’t there to help guide them! Items such as military service documentation, copies of health insurance cards, passwords, letters to loved ones, funeral and burial wishes, investment information, location of bank accounts and safe deposit box information and a key, debtor information including credit card numbers and contacts, location of final will, perhaps even a draft obituary and other closings-of-a-life documents which can be of help to those who are left to wrap up your presence in this world.
You won’t care how difficult the details of your leftover affairs can be for others remaining behind, of course, but they will!