I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Summer is not endless

Bouquets for $5
Yesterday at the Farmers' Market, I saw these beautiful bouquets for sale, and I imagined the family going out into their flower gardens and gathering these lovely flowers. People everywhere were walking around with bouquets in hand, making for a very festive atmosphere. It was overcast but warm, so people were sitting on benches in the open, usually bare of people who prefer shade. Yesterday the shade was everywhere.

Today marks the first day since summer began that the sun will set before 9:00pm. I also notice that the sun is coming up later, as we are losing more than two minutes of daylight every day. We are almost to the halfway mark between summer and fall, August 1, and I don't mind a bit. This is my favorite time of the year, from now until mid-September, because everything is in full bloom and people everywhere seem far away from the dreary days of winter. In the High Country last Thursday I noticed a few of the maple leaves beginning to turn already. It was a reminder that nothing stays the same, life's progression continues from planting to harvest, never pausing to stop for a bit, always changing. Maybe that's one reason I like to take so many pictures, my attempt to capture the moment.

I never seem to go anywhere in town these days without seeing at least one person I know, either someone I attend yoga with, or perhaps someone whom I have helped write his or her Advance Directive. Some of you know that a couple of years ago I decided to get certified to become a facilitator for those who wish to write down their wishes for what they would like to happen if they become unable to speak for themselves. The process is to assign one or more people to become your Power of Attorney for Health Care and get it all written down. It means thinking about the possibilities and deciding what you want for yourself in case that ever happens to you.

The hardest part is deciding what's really important in the case of incapacitation and inability to communicate. Do you ever think about it? Some people have never given it any thought, and it's not until it happens to some family member or friend that it becomes something one ponders. It's a gift to your family, as well as yourself, to document your wishes and get it on file with the local hospital, as well as with your doctor.

There is one place in the document where you must decide what "to interact meaningfully" means to you. I remember for myself it was when I realized that if I am confined to bed and am never likely to regain my ability to care for myself, I would be ready to die. It's a natural process, but sometimes things happen to us where we cannot say what we'd like to happen next, and that's what thinking about it and writing it down is all about. If I can't feed myself and would be dependent on hydration and sustenance coming into my body through a tube, I think I'd rather just... stop. But I don't know that for sure, because I've never been in that situation. When I documented my own wishes, I wrote down what I think I would want, but who knows until we get there? We just have to make an educated guess.

The days when people took to their beds and were taken care of by family members until they died are pretty much gone. Nowadays people are taken into the hospital, installed in the Intensive Care Unit, and hooked up to machines to keep them alive long after they would have died naturally in the old days. I think my mom had the best kind of death: she had suffered a heart attack and knew for weeks prior to her death that she would not live much longer, and she was able to see her loved ones and tell us what she wanted to happen to her belongings after she died. Then she slipped into a coma and over the period of a few days she just drifted away. I was with her at the time, and it was a quiet and peaceful passing. She was in her own bed, surrounded by several of her children.

I have noticed when writing their Advance Directive, many people are adamant that they not spend their last days in an ICU, where their hard-earned savings are eaten up and nothing is accomplished. We've all seen or heard of it happening, and that's the best part of an Advance Directive: you can make sure that when the time comes, you can die naturally. Of course, if you fall over unconscious in a public place and someone calls 911, the emergency technicians who get to you will do everything they can to save your life. But once you get to the hospital, if you have a Power of Attorney for Health Care on file, your wishes will then be known and followed. But if you don't have one, it will fall to your family members to decide what to do next. Nobody wants to pull the plug if they don't know what you might want to have happen.

In my community, the ability to get all this done is free, performed by volunteers, including getting the document notarized and distributed to the appropriate agencies. I know that many people think you have to pay a lawyer big bucks to have it done, but I suspect that more and more communities are finding people like me to help you. It is provided in Bellingham by the Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement (WAHA), which also provides services for people to get affordable health care. At the very least, you can write down your wishes in your own handwriting, sign and date it, and give it to your loved one just in case. It's much better than nothing, and it means you will be forced to have the conversation with a loved one and think about it.

Once a week I go to WAHA and spend three hours either helping people write their Advance Directive or notarizing one they have already filled out. We discuss it, and often their agent will be present, and I've had some really meaningful conversations that I won't soon forget. I've been doing this for almost two years now, and although it definitely requires effort from everyone involved, it's worth it. It took awhile before I found what I wanted to do as a volunteer, and I've not been sorry that I chose this path.

Whew! I didn't realize when I sat down to write this post that I'd take this direction. And I do hope it's not too uncomfortable for you, my reader, to think about this important task for yourself and your loved ones. Yes, summer is not endless, and neither are we. Once we face that fact and take steps to arrange for our final moments on this earth, it can be freeing. At least I've found it to be so.

I do hope that you will remember to give your loved ones a hug today, as I will be doing so myself. My partner is still sleeping, tea is gone, and the day beckons. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well until then.


troutbirder said...

Yes we did this a few years ago when I was reading about women who'd been in a vegetative state for years in Florida and the United States Senate was debating her future as if it was their business. That got me going.... Grrr.

Linda Reeder said...

My partner is up and getting going. We'll have breakfast and then go for our exercise walk while the air is still cool and the clouds linger. Today we'll putter in the yard, sit and read and relax after having lunch on the patio, and then go into the city for a light meal in the park before going to the Sounders match at the stadium.
We have advanced directives, which leaves us free to live life abundantly. I know you do the same.

Arkansas Patti said...

Thanks for the nudge. That is something I have put off and really need to get busy with. Thanks Djan for this helpful post.

Marie Smith said...

We have spoken with our daughter but we need to put it on paper. I love the way you wove the discussion about the end of summer with the end of life. Such an important discussion to have and your openness about it is refreshing. Have a wonderful day and week, Jan.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Interstingly this very week I had my sister over to chat with her as my spouse will soon nolonger be the optimal power of Health and other matters concerning myself and Buddy. Changes are in the works as I write. One does noy think of the memory issue in the earlier years. Now it is an issue that needs to be addressed and the power papers and wills have to be altered so that all is execuible by a sound mind and with care for Buddy in proper place. I am interested to learn from uou how you advise those who require your knowledge. Dementia comes gradually but will at some point render that person unable to fulfill the role as assigned.

Cynthia said...

We just finished doing our Health Directives but I still have to get mine notarized. There is no one in South Carolina to help you through, nothing but the instructions on the form. That would have been helpful. I think it's wonderful you are volunteering to assist people, DJan.

Meryl Baer said...

Have no written directive, but orally let family know my thoughts on the subject. Hub and I both need to write things down, however.

Elephant's Child said...

I have a very similar directive (under a different name) in place. Sadly my partner refuses to consider death and/or incapacity. To the extent he doesn't even have a will. Which scares me.
Your voluntary work sounds wonderful. Needed and meaningful. Thank you - and hugs.

Tabor said...

Both husband and I have advanced directives...but I wonder how detailed they actually are.

Red said...

I have some tweaking to do on my directives. Now if this post is interesting but if it was a conversation it would be interesting as far as the topics covered is concerned.

Mary said...

I'm a widow with no children or close family. I do have all the paperwork done and my Dr. has a copy of my directive. I have named my ex SIL, who is a neighbor as my proxy. But I still worry, as she has her own life and is actually a little older than me. Ending up in a hospital or nursing home is my biggest fear in life. And I'm not in an assisted suicide state. The best I can do as long as I have a mind, is to stop eating and drinking, which I understand is legal in every state, but what if I'm incapacitated or suffering from advanced dementia? It angers me that we don't have more control over our own bodies and destiny and that others do and by their belief system and not ours.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Great post!

Rita said...

Dagan and Leah know, but I should get it in writing.
You really found an important way to volunteer, dear lady.
Enjoy the rest of the summer!! :)

Dee said...

Dear DJan, thank you for all this information about Advance Directives. I did this before my surgery in March, but I want to change a couple of points and plan to do that when I see the lawyer in a couple of weeks about making a will. All this is necessary because I do not want my family to have to make decisions that they might anguish over. Thank you again. Peace.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Thank you for being a volunteer! The Advanced Care Directives are so important! You don't realize it if you are younger, but they are important for younger people too:)

C-ingspots said...

You are so involved, and keep yourself busy. That's a good thing for mind and body. And yes, thank you for helping. For volunteering your time in a way which is so very important, but so easy to procrastinate. Without people like you directing and helping, so many would choose to do nothing. This post is so timely to my husband and I right now.

We've just taken the first steps in advance directive for health care, power of attorney, our wills and we're choosing also, to put our home into a living revocable trust. Through our church, this is all done for free, including education, forms, notarization and even lawyers to overlook everything. With a living revocable trust, as long as you live, you can make changes and trusts don't have to go through probate. So no probate fees and no waiting. The will dedicates personal belongings to whomever you choose, and can be included in the trust, or not. I just know we'll feel better when everything is decided ahead of time, and taken care of. Like you said, so freeing! And I never want to do what our parents did to us. There's always one bad penny in a family it seems, who chooses to be greedy and manipulates for their own enrichment. That's been my experience.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, I really appreciate your posts about the Advance Directive. This is a great thing you are doing. Some volunteer work while in retirement can be very rewarding. And, interestingly, this is one of the benefits of blogging. Reading your posts have encouraged my spouse and I to get our Advance Directives in place. Thanks, as always, for sharing!

likeschocolate said...

You were a beautiful baby! Have a lovely week!

phann son said...

We have spoken with our daughter but we need to put it on paper. I love the way you wove the discussion about the end of summer with the end of life. Such an important discussion to have and your openness about it is refreshing. Have a wonderful day and week, Jan.