GUEST COLUMN: End-of-life need not be tragic turmoil
Did you just read or learn that Ted Turner, CNN founder and multi-millionaire, has been diagnosed with Lewy body dementia? It is the same disease that brought demons to the brain of the late comedian Robin Williams before his suicide.
Turner has more money than he could ever outlive, and yet this cruel disease has found him. He is already suffering a mild onset, but it will only progress to “worse” and then death. According to a recent Healthline description, “The disease gets its name from abnormal deposits in the brain known as Lewy bodies. These are made of a protein called alpha-synuclein which affects chemicals in the brain, causing problems with thinking, behavior, mood, and movement. Lewy body dementia is an umbrella term for two related diagnoses — dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia. Both are caused by the buildup of Lewy bodies in the brain. These can only be seen after death during an autopsy. In dementia with Lewy bodies, people first show signs of a decline in thinking ability.”
Approximately 1.4 to 1.5 million Americans have the disease. It usually begins after age 50 but can occur earlier in life.
I had an acquaintance who suffered from the disease before his death. He used to gather his wife’s collection of ceramic frogs into the bathroom to give them a sermon. He needed full time care before his life came to its ending.
So many such cruel diseases can strike a friend or loved one, and too often, too soon. Until three years ago, I had never heard of Lewy body dementia, had you? But the mention of Ted Turner now being so afflicted reminded me that we are not always able to manage our end-of-years, and sometimes it comes too soon to be prepared.
I recently read a thought-provoking book entitled “The Beginner’s Guide to the End,” Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death” written by BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger, published in July 2019 by Simon and Schuster. I recommend it for now, and for later.
One of the useful guide suggestions included was a “When I Die” list, encouraging preparation of such specifics for next-of-kin as the location of insurance policies, including auto coverages, vehicle titles, military service records, passwords (including any master password), safe deposit box location and key, social media to be disconnected, cemetery, burial plot and funeral wishes, even a prepared obituary, if desired.
The book’s list also suggested including investment information and brokerage firm contact, tax preparer and attorney, debtor lists such as credit cards and mortgages, location of Social Security, Medicare and other insurance cards, checkbooks and bank account numbers and locations. Of course, it can be most vital to know about, or be able to find advance directives for health care, necessary powers of attorney, and ultimately, a will.
I also added some important home-specific information to my personal list; on-line accounts and auto-pays to be cancelled, location of car keys, garage door openers, combination to exterior door locks, burial clothing, and a personal list of family and/or friends to be notified.
Sometimes, one family member or another has taken charge of bills and financial organization. Sadly, too often at the time of death of a loved one, such important information cannot be found when needed. If that is the person who is badly injured, dies suddenly or is afflicted with a debilitating disease, others in the family may be shut out of the very information needed at a critical time of decision making.
With advance warning, such as the above-mentioned book describes, and with careful preparation, an end-of-life search need not add to the turmoil and tragedy at the time of the loss of a loved one or family member.
Mel Kelly can be reached at email@example.com