Saturday, January 31, 2009
In the past few years, I have become more familiar with death than I would like, so forgive me if this topic seems a bit "comfortable" to me. I understand that this may be very uncomfortable for you, so read on at your own risk.
In revising my will, I've really had to re-think some important decisions about my family, post-Nicole. These decisions were easy the first time around, but this time it has proven to be extremely challenging. I believe this is more arduous this time because the one person I trusted the most with those difficult decisions is now gone. Often during this revision process, I felt like almost no family member was trustworthy in carrying out my wishes after I am gone. (I understand, though, that this is/may be partially due to anger and denial relative to grief.) Fortunately, I have faith that there are a couple of dear family members that I trust will follow my wishes (even if they do not agree with them) because they understand that they are my wishes and not theirs. They understand and respect them.
Naming people in a will and pre-deciding medical treatment is an amazingly difficult task. Imagine actually thinking of yourself being gone; of your family and friends grieving over you but still being forced to read and execute a document that you wrote while you were still alive or still of sound mind. (Trust me- this is much easier than dealing with a family member who didn't have a will.)
Part of my decision includes the option to use Oregon's Death with Dignity Act. If you are not familiar with this act, it makes doctor-assisted suicide legal in the state of Oregon. It states that if you are terminally ill and a physician believes you will die within 6 months, you can request a lethal prescription to end your life. Realistically, I'm not sure that I could actually go through with something like this, but I'd like the choice, especially if I am in great pain and misery. Morally, I believe everyone should have the right to do this, just as any woman should have the right to an abortion. Why should the government dictate what I can and can't do with my own body? This is where certain members of my family and I may disagree.
The sad thing about this disagreement is that this has, in my opinion, too much to do with their religious beliefs. If their church believed (somehow) that a woman's right to choose was theirs, they would believe it too. If the church says that global warming is not man-made, then they believe it too. If their church believed that jumping off a cliff is the wish of their God, they would (unquestionably?) do it. (Though I might resort to that if I was terminally ill and lived outside of Oregon too.)
If you don't want an abortion or to "die with dignity," don't do it. Nobody is forcing you to. That's what makes it a choice. That is the beauty of it: everyone can do what they choose. Many times, these choices don't directly effect anybody else but the person who is making the decision. It is not something that anyone else's conscience has to deal with but the person who is making the decision. Try stay out of it & try to be supportive of their decision instead- these decisions are hard enough. You have no right to tell me what is best for me.
Today, as I read through the Oregon Death with Dignity Act website, it felt so strange to be actually thinking about this as a possibility in my future. I could find out that I have cancer tomorrow. Or I could find out that I have some other terminal illness 40 years from now. Either way, the thought of the reality of a decision like that is highly emotional. And I don't just mean the thought of it, I mean the thought of being in the actual situation that would force someone to choose. Think about that for a minute... really... Some of us are in denial before anything even happens.
I don't really know what the moral of my blog is today. Perhaps I am just trying to prepare family and friends for the worst in the future. You never know when it is your turn. Most of the time, you have no control over it.
If you don't already have a will, I highly recommend that you begin to at least think about and document your wishes on paper. You can even avoid attorneys altogether by doing one online: www.nolo.com, though I am not entirely sure of the legality of these- it might be worth your time to investigate and ask some questions about it. Even if your wishes are not legally documented, your family will still have an idea of what you want to happen after you are gone. The problem with not having a will, a living will, a trust, etc., is that a judge may determine what happens to your children, belongings, assets, etc.
Here is a list of things to start thinking about and/or documenting:
-Name a trustee. A trustee may be a family member or a friend, someone who is neutral in making decisions.
-Name a Personal Representative (aka, "Executor") This should be the person you trust the most, someone who understands you, respects who you are and what your beliefs and wishes may be even if they don't agree with them and will execute your will as you intended.
-If you have children or pets, name someone to care for them. Foster care, anyone?
-Decide what you want done in different medical situations/emergencies. (Living Will) Do you want to be resuscitated? Kept on life support if death is certain?
-Decide who you want to have Power of Attorney. This is the person who makes decisions for you and acts on your behalf if you are unable to do so.
-Decide who you want your property to go to. (Be specific or general.) You don't want your grandmother's wedding ring to go to your sister-in-law, do you? You can also "give" everything to one person to distribute as he/she feels appropriate.
Also important, but not will-related:
-Consider purchasing life insurance and be sure to name a beneficiary. My dear high school friend and finance genius, Gene, says to stay away from "Accidental Death" policies- less than 1% of these policies actually pays out. "Accidental Death" is an option that you add to a life insurance policy. Thanks Gene!
-Be sure you name a beneficiary or P.O.D. (Payable On Death) for all of your retirement, bank and other accounts of value.
This post probably seems very morbid and for some of you, premature ("I'm young- there's no need for me to have a will."), but I cannot stress enough that you never know when your time is up, no matter what age you are. The deaths that I've had to endure in the past few years were tragic, unexpected, relatively young deaths that offered no warning whatsoever.