Last month a friend invited me to attend a Caregiver Resource Day at the new SCV Senior Center, Bella Vida. What an impressive facility! It’s beautiful, spacious, I would even say elegant. The event was titled Knowledge is Power: Aging with Dignity. The keynote speakers, professionals with impressive credentials in the field of aging and caregiving, spoke about the L.A. master plan for aging and provided an Alzheimer’s disease research update. The day included a variety of vendors providing resources for seniors and caregivers. As I browsed the tables, I was struck by the number of services available to assist seniors as they age. Representatives from hospitals, health insurance, life insurance, in-home care, law offices and senior living facilities provided information and assistance to attendees.
And yes, there were representatives from funeral services and estate planning. I picked up helpful brochures about planning ahead for end of life decisions. In the back of my mind, I heard a haunting little voice whisper “get your affairs in order.” This phrase evokes such feelings of dread. Most of us don’t like to think about drawing up a will, signing “do not resuscitate” orders or planning funeral services. If we think about end-of-life planning, then we have to think about end of life. We’re too young, too busy to think about stuff like that. So we procrastinate and create all kinds of reasons to avoid making these decisions. Forbes Magazine describes it as “Americans’ Ostrich Approach to Estate Planning.”
Only about one-third of Americans are estimated to have any advanced-medical directives. Geriatrician Dr. Diane Meier explains, “In part, the public’s lack of excitement about this is related to the reality that it’s very hard to make decisions about the kind of care you want in the future when you don’t know what that will be like.” But leaving future decisions to family members without any guidance is not an effective option either.
We all know that life is short … and unpredictable. We can be struck by lightning, bitten by a shark or run over by a bus. Providing family members with clear directives takes the pressure off them, and could save them time and money in court. To ensure that our preferences and priorities are honored, we should spend at least as much time planning our final directives as we do our summer vacation. Journalist Ellen Goodman, founder of the nonprofit organization The Conversation Project, says, “It’s best to have these conversations before there’s a crisis, because a crisis is a terrible time to learn.”
The more comfortable we feel about end-of-life decisions, the more we can live life with ease and peace of mind. Gail Rubin, author of “A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die,” encourages humor to help start a conversation with loved ones. If humor is a part of living, then why shouldn’t it be a part of dying? She says, “Talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, and talking about funerals won’t make you dead.” Regarding funeral arrangements, Rubin urges people to “shop before you drop!”
Mary Petersen is a retired COC English instructor, 30-year SCV resident, and two-time breast cancer survivor.