This article is my first for the Wilmington Business Journal’s Insights section. I have prepared a list of some subjects that might be of interest to readers, but one topic keeps coming back to me like a spicy crab cake. If I tackle this taboo subject first, maybe I can move on to the lighter subjects like Tips on Choosing a Nursing Home or How to Avoid Falls in Your Home. Kidding! Yes, I do know about these subjects but I have much more to say about the joys of aging in Wilmington, especially since I am reaching that magical full Social Security age this decade.
In my early career, I was a social worker and child advocate. The work always focused on ensuring the health and well-being of vulnerable children and families. Children are universally viewed as precious beings with lives full of hope and promise, but after working with seniors for the last decade I realize aging adults are just as vulnerable, or maybe more so, than young children.
What has been bothering me lately is the absence of a national discussion about end-of-life planning. Using terminology such as “end of life” or “passing on” may be softer and gentler but no matter what you call it, I’m talking about death. The end. The grim reaper. Pushing daises. The final curtain. Best sellers on the subject have titles like, Being Mortal or Final Wishes because no one will buy, Plan On It: You Will Die.
Sure, vampires on television flaunt their immortality but I am often around people who act as though death will skip their generation. Discussions about health care, living arrangements, advance directives, and other final wishes are not considered topics of polite conversation.
Sorry if I’ve ruined your day with my comments, but if I have, I hope to redeem myself with a future funny tale of life as a senior citizen. For now, what is this aversion to planning for the inevitable? We have all heard of the train wrecks that have occurred because no one knew the specifics in a will. You might know two close sisters who no longer speak to each other because one of them was willed their grandmother’s engagement ring. Perhaps you know of a parent who lost all the equity in his or her home because of the actions of a drug-addicted child. Maybe you’ve heard of a situation where family members can’t address medical treatment because no one is named health care power of attorney. These tragic stories rarely make the national news, but poll your friends and you will hear about avoidable situations that have torn apart families.
Why the Fear?
Sometimes elderly family members refuse to share pertinent financial information with their children because they fear a loss of control. Parents don’t want to be perceived as a burden to their children. Some people just don’t want to face the conversation because it is too real. Whatever the reason for avoiding the conversation, end-of-life decision-making should be as common as grocery shopping.
Dip Your Toes in the Water
You can hire a professional to help you put your wishes in writing but a lot of angst can be averted by understanding your wishes and conveying those wishes to others. Although there are many tools available to help you, one terrific website was developed by our very own Lower Cape Fear Hospice. The free downloadable forms can be found at www.begintheconversation.org/. Don’t wait until a parent, loved one or spouse is in an emergency situation before broaching the subject.
My mother, perhaps because of her experiences as the clerk of Superior Court New Hanover County, made sure I knew exactly where to find her will, do not resuscitate order, power of attorney, and other critical documents before she became gravely ill. Every insurance policy and bank account was listed with a case number and contact information. She had prepared a complete list of important phone numbers and account numbers to cancel specific services. The funeral arrangements were detailed down to the type of wood for the casket. What a gift to me this was during a stressful time. The only thing missing was the picture for her obituary. Six weeks after the funeral, I found a file with the picture, exactly where it should have been. In my mother’s immaculate handwriting on the tab was the word PENDING.
A third-generation Wilmington native, Julie Rehder is marketing and public relations administrator for the The Davis Community in Porters Neck. The not-for-profit Davis Community provides quality assisted living, skilled nursing, rehab and wellness services to aging adults in a loving, continuum of care environment. The campus is celebrating its 50th year on July 1, 2016. For more information about The Davis Community, go to www.thedaviscommunity.org, www.facebook.com/thedaviscommunity or call (910) 686-7195.
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