State Your Wishes: Good Planning

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Life happens, often faster than we had planned. Dealing with the uncomfortable questions we may have for our loved ones’ final days is an intimidating prospect. Have we asked the right ones? Are their wishes being honored?

Attorneys and financial advisors are frequently the professionals who are asked to draft documents such as power of attorney, last will and testament and healthcare power of attorney. All require personal analysis of disposition of assets and legal organization.

However, not all these paths include an individual’s personal, spiritual, emotional and physical wishes.

Who do I want to make healthcare decisions for me? This is the person who makes choices about medicine, tests, surgery or life-sustaining measures. She will have access to medical records and personal files and can authorize or refuse to authorize medication or a procedure needed to help with pain. It should be someone who knows you well and who can advocate for you so that your wishes are followed.

What kind of medical treatment do I want or not want? Define specifics for your caregiver, such as not wanting to be in pain and to be comfortable, clean and warm. Clearly say if you do not want anything done or omitted by your doctors or nurses with the intention of ending your life. You can also define your choices for life support treatment for specific conditions, so that your loved ones know what you want and can act upon those wishes.

How comfortable do I want to be? This begins the process of defining your personal, spiritual and emotional wishes. You can specify actions such as wanting to have enough medicine to relieve pain, even if it makes you drowsy or sleep more than usual. Personal care such as warm baths, being kept fresh and clean, massages with warm oils, plans for incontinence care are some more. You may wish to have religious or spiritual texts read aloud or music played for you, and to explore options for hospice care to provide medical, emotional and spiritual care for you and your loved ones.

How do I wish to be treated? Do you want to have someone with you all the time, so that someone is close when death is near? You may wish to be visited by a chaplain or clergy, or members of your faith community, and to request prayer in your presence and prayer by friends and members of your faith community. You may prefer kindness and cheerfulness, not sadness, and you may wish to die in your home, if that’s possible.

What do you want your loved ones to know? Some specifics may be that your family and friends remember you before you were seriously ill or of advanced age. You could express that your family, friends and caregivers respect and follow your wishes even if they do not agree. You might wish that family members make peace with any conflicts they have with each other and with you. You can express how much you love them. Do you want to be an organ donor? Express wishes for a funeral or memorial service and burial plans, and specify who knows your funeral wishes.

Aging with Dignity, Tallahassee, Florida, was founded by Jim Towey in 1996 when he was legal counsel to Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He met her in Calcutta, India, in 1985, and she urged him to “defend and protect life, the most beautiful gift of God and to bring God’s love and compassion to the elderly poor.” In her writings, she discussed the importance of aging with dignity, saying, “There are among us so many who are poor and elderly, in need of our understanding, respect, love and compassion, especially if they are sick, handicapped, helpless or alone.”

Aging with Dignity states on its website, “The 21st century in America has seen a rapid advance in technology and sweeping changes in how medical and long-term care are administered. Patients and their families often feel powerless and don’t know whom to trust. They…often feel powerless in the face of the ever-increasing complexity and sophistication of artificial intelligence and modern medicine. For nearly 25 years Aging with Dignity has defended the God-given right of the elderly, disabled, and mentally ill to have their human dignity respected and safeguarded, particularly in times of serious illness.”

The five leading questions are contained in the booklet Five Wishes, developed by Aging with Dignity. If you have a living will or durable power of attorney for health care and want to easily make changes, Five Wishes can substitute for both, updating your choices. Just make sure you share with your family, doctor and health care agent.

Now, go do something fun! The hardest part is finished.

Sources:, and Reverend Mary Porter.