A few weeks ago, I shared with you the important lesson my grandma taught me about dementia. Today, my mind turns to my other grandmother – my mother’s mother – who died eight years ago today from complications of a massive stroke.
Grandmother was in her favorite room when the stroke occurred like a bolt of lightning. Enjoying her coffee while watching early morning television in her cozy sitting room, I’m sure she was thinking about what she wanted to accomplish that day. You see, Grandmother was one of the most organized people I’ve known (which I’m convinced explains the penetrating need for order exhibited by both my mother and myself).
Grandmother unfailingly had things well thought out, prepared and in order. Christmas shopping was completed weeks in advance, and a pocket notebook was filled with birthday cards organized by month. The house was spotless. Every meal was planned from the olive tray to the cookie tray.
When she had her stroke, we discovered that she had reliably planned for this too.
Grandmother gave my grandfather (and the rest of us) a gift when she used her penchant for order to create advance directives. In these priceless documents, she spelled out exactly what she wanted – and just as importantly, what she didn’t want – in the event that she was incapacitated.
When a loved one cannot make decisions for him- or herself, one would assume that the responsibility transfers to the person’s primary caregiver. But in today’s litigious society, there must be papers in place that name the person (or persons) given that responsibility. Otherwise, important decisions such as whether to continue life supporting measures may fall to a relative who has not cared for the person or who does not agree with the person’s wishes.
Grandmother made sure she had two documents up-to-date and easily accessible to my grandfather:
- A durable medical power of attorney, which designates someone to make health care decisions in the event that the person is incapacitated
- A living will, which delineates what life supporting measures one would want and not want performed in order to sustain life
After her stroke, Grandmother was indeed incapacitated, unconscious, and on life supporting measures while the doctors fully evaluated the extent of her stroke. This gave my grandfather time to carefully read her documents and consult with his children about her wishes. While no decision such as this is ever easy, it can still be clear. And my grandmother’s clarity gave her family peace of mind that they were truly honoring her wishes when the life support was removed.
(c) Kip Curry
Advance directives can be pathways to peace for caregivers and other family members faced with heart wrenching decisions such as these. If you and your loved one have not yet put these documents in place, I encourage you to do so as soon as possible. If you are unsure where to start, these resources can help:
- Call the Alzheimer's Association’s 24/7, toll-free Helpline at 1-800-272-3900 and find out where the nearest Legal and Financial Planning for Alzheimer’s Disease workshop is being held, or complete the workshop as an e-learning course here.
- Click here to find out if your state honors the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) paradigm. The site includes information about how to access POLST forms (if applicable) and alternatives for families in states that do not currently have POLST programs.
- Many families have found the Five Wishes document helpful in spelling out their end-of-life preferences. The document can be found here and meets the legal requirements in 42 states.
- No matter whether you use the POLST form, the Five Wishes, and/or standard durable medical power of attorney and living will documents, they should be reviewed by an elder law attorney to make sure they are properly completed. To find an elder law attorney, search the database of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. If you are concerned about the cost of an attorney, check LawHelp for free and low-cost legal aid in your state.
I am incredibly grateful for the forethought my grandmother had regarding her end-of-life wishes. If you have a similar story, please share it here. And if you have yet to complete these documents, please don’t wait.