Your loved ones need your end-of-life wish list

Don’t leave tough decisions up to loved ones – it’s time for an end-of-life wish list

In the days before my father died last decade, he begged me from his hospital bed to be taken home. He did not want to die surrounded by other dying people, perfunctory nurses and robotic doctors.

He wanted to cast his eye one more time over his beloved garden and to slowly amble around the house he had repaired, maintained and painstakingly painted every five years.

He wanted to know that family was close by, 24 hours a day, not just during visiting hours.

When the doctors told my family that he would likely not last the week out, I relayed his dying wish … to be taken home as soon as possible.

The medical staff denied his request, claiming that ambulance services had to be reserved for more urgent cases and that, in any case, he would likely die en route to his beloved house.

I didn’t have the heart to tell Dad. We just let the hours and days roll by as he sank deeper into his morphine-induced slumber.

Afterwards, I felt a terrible guilt. I should have tried harder to persuade his doctors to release him. I felt awful that I could not, through no real fault of my own, grant him his final wish.

And I determined the same would not happen to me. I would write a wish list for my end of days and talk about it, often, with my children. And I have. It wasn’t an easy topic to raise, but over time, it became easier and now everyone knows how I want to exit this world. No one needs to make a tough decision on my behalf as I go, and no one needs to feel guilty about what transpires if my wishes go to plan.

Will power
The best place to start making your wishes known is in a final will and testament. Everyone should have one. If circumstances change and you wish to modify your will in the future, you can. But indecisiveness now about who can inherit your chattels is no excuse for not penning a will.

And while you are thinking about how to divvy things up, don’t forget your electronic treasure trove. Make sure you leave instructions behind on how your digital assets – emails, social media accounts and other online ‘possessions’ – are to be handled after you die. Without your password, your loved ones will not be able to access your electronic treasures.

Enduring power of attorney
As we hurtle beyond 80 years of age, many of us will experience impaired abilities, both physical and cognitive. An enduring power of attorney written when you still have your wits about you could ensure that when it’s time for help with your decision-making, the person you most trust will be able to assist. 

End is nigh
If you are a Victorian, you may soon be able to decide that your life should not be prolonged if you have a terminal disease that forces you to endure unspeakable suffering. The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill before the Victorian Parliament will allow you to self-administer euthanasia if you meet a long list of stringent requirements. Even if legislation is not yet available in your jurisdiction but you have a preference for euthanasia, you can still express that in a wish list, just in case the laws are introduced in the future.

Treat me well
Acquaintances in the medical field have told me that if they contract ‘such and such’ a disease, they will not undergo the recommended treatment that they themselves administer to patients. In many cases, you may have a right to refuse interventional treatment which may destroy your quality of life. You may opt for gentle, palliative care or to die at home with your family caring for you. Consider the pros and cons while you can and write your desire on your wish list.

No service
I was taken aback when the family of my aunt who died this year did not give her a funeral. They told me that when she was sound of mind, she firmly expressed not wanting any type of funeral service. So it was straight from the nursing home to the crematorium for my aunt.

But back to Dad … he had regularly told us that he wished to be cremated when he died. When the sad day came, however, my mother insisted that he be buried so she could visit his plot. As frustrating as it was for her, my sisters and I were able to ensure that Dad’s last wishes were honoured. We outnumbered her three to one, so she capitulated. But if, for example, you haven’t written in your will what type of burial you want, you may be leaving behind a great, big bunfight for your family. 

The Ferryman’s price
When my sisters and I were checking out the caskets at the funeral parlour, it became clear that we could not agree over the type of ‘vessel’ in which Dad should make his final journey. Being the frugal man I knew he was, I suggested that he would want the cheapest casket. My sisters believed that would make his family appear disrespectful. In the end, Mum made the decision, which was fair enough, as it was her money that was going to pay for it.

But I was reminded of a story I had read many years before, involving an extravagant amount of money spent on a wife’s mausoleum by her crafty husband and vengeful stepfather to her children. The deceased lady had written him out of her will, the story goes, on the insistence of her children. On her deathbed, the lady agreed on condition that her most recent husband would be able to organise a suitable burial chamber for her and pay for it from her estate before the children claimed their inheritance.

And so it was … the elaborate and large mausoleum took years to design and build, with opulent materials sourced from all over the world, and employing the very best craftsmen that money could buy. When it was completed, guess what? There was no money left for the children to inherit!

One moral of this story is that you should look into the costs of the afterlife and write down a budget for your living relatives to spend on caskets, plots, crypts and tombstones. Once that is on paper, there should be nothing to argue over among those left behind.

As with any major decision you may need to make, seek some professional legal advice to help with your wish list.

Have you made your will? Do your loved ones know about your end-of-life wishes?

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    COMMENTS

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    Old Geezer
    10th Nov 2017
    11:54am
    NO funeral, NO money left as I'll spend it all on celebrating life before I kick the bucket.
    Jennie
    10th Nov 2017
    12:49pm
    I have an excellent will, an Advanced Care Directive, a personal statement, and a registration with the My Values website run by Professor Charlie Corke (Barwon Health) which gives me a small printout which I can carry with me in my purse. It's unlikely that if you are taken short in the street you will have your ACD with you, so something small is necessary to inform doctors that you have end of life wishes.
    By the way, the most eco-friendly disposal of ones body is a natural/woodland burial. You will be wrapped in a calico sheet and put into the ground (no coffin) and a tree planted on top. The whole body including bones rot down. This feeds the soil.
    A cremator uses about 285 kiloWatt hours of gas and 15kWh of electricity on average per cremation - roughly the same domestic energy demands as a single person for an entire month.
    the process of preserving and sealing corpses into caskets and then plunging them into the ground is extremely environmentally unfriendly.
    Toxic chemicals from the embalming, burial, (and cremation process) leach into the air and soil, and expose funeral workers to potential hazards. And maintaining the crisp, green memorial plots is extremely land-and-water-use heavy. Any way we will run out of space. Fortunately embalming is not so popular in Australia as it is in the US, but the waste of wood in a casket? Not good.
    Tib
    10th Nov 2017
    2:15pm
    If we really want to save the planet it's in stopping women's shop till they drop mentality not in funerals. We could probably save the planet if women were only allowed one pair of shoes. Think of all the Chinese factories that would close down,
    Jennie
    10th Nov 2017
    3:38pm
    How about both? Shopping and funerals. After all everyone dies! The more eco-friendly behaviours we can perform, the better.
    We won't worry about unemployed, starving Chinese now will we...
    Old Geezer
    10th Nov 2017
    3:52pm
    Now all you need is someone to actually take notice of it all. Most won't.
    Tib
    10th Nov 2017
    3:53pm
    Both sounds a good idea. As far as unemployed Chinese , China has some of the worst smog in the world. Women who want to save the planet often don't make the connection between their rampant consumerism and industrial pollution.
    Puglet
    10th Nov 2017
    1:30pm
    Assisted suicide when I am ready or if I can’t live independently, no funeral, no death notices, no flowers, cheapest coffin possible, cremation and straight into river for the fishes. Everybody knows and it’s all written down in Advanced Directives. I wear a Medic Alert bracelet and there’s a ‘Not for Resuscitation’ on it. The kids know exactly where the will is and what is in it and where the deeds to the house and personal records are including investment accounts. The family are instructed to have a mighty party to celebrate my life and death.
    Tib
    10th Nov 2017
    1:59pm
    I like the story about the wifes mausoleum. The husbands reaction can only be called .....pure genius. It's an interesting point though if you have been living out your last years with a mean and vindictive wife a last minute change to your will might see her last days eating baked beans rather than caviar. That may make your last breath a chuckle, since we men tend to go first that's a lot of payback nation wide.
    Anonymous
    10th Nov 2017
    5:39pm
    I prefer the other way around - husband's mausoleum with no wife. Then she's not there to nag him in the afterlife! *wink*
    Tib
    10th Nov 2017
    8:11pm
    As they say Dr P
    No wife happy life.

    10th Nov 2017
    5:13pm
    We have planned and paid for our funerals, right down to the types of flowers on the caskets. We want our family to be spared the burden of running around and trying to guess what we would have wanted. It also allows them to start the grieving process earlier. I recently watched a mate die in a hospice and my last memory of him is not the memory I wanted to have. If I should be required to spend my last days in a hospice, I would prefer that I have no visitors so that my friends and family can remember the cranky old bastard in their own way, not to be burdened with a vision of a broken shell, unable to speak or react.
    Triss
    10th Nov 2017
    5:48pm
    Agree with you, OG, unfortunately close family tend to want to be with you - even a cranky old bastard like you - for as long as possible before they’re forced to say their last “goodbye”.
    Anonymous
    10th Nov 2017
    8:01pm
    Triss please!!! I respect your views but I take issue with labelling me as someone who is a supercilious mind changing trouble maker. I am OM, not ever to be confused with OG. Thank you.
    Triss
    10th Nov 2017
    8:08pm
    Sorry about the typo, OM, I obviously need to edit my replies more carefully. Fingers touching forelock.

    10th Nov 2017
    5:35pm
    I congratuate you on a superb article chock full of excellent advice. Bravo!
    MON
    10th Nov 2017
    6:18pm
    Perhaps the following experience is not quite on mark, but hopefully it gives an insight into how a persons wishes can be delivered. So simple to do, but often to difficult to actually achieve.
    Earlier this year our eldest child suddenly and tragically passed away, dying intestate and without clear written instructions as to her wishes. Over the years, we of course had attended family funerals and I had accompanied her to funerals of friends and/or parents of friends. Post each of the funerals we would discuss the service and burial commenting how we would like ours to be held (i intended this as an insight for my time but sadly not so). At family dinners small matters would be discussed about life which gave an indication of individual feelings in regards to death and the immediate period after. Her passing was and continues to be emotional, however the family and friends know that the funeral service was conducted how my daughter wanted. The service was not to be in a church nor chapel , nor religious in nature; difficult with my siblings who are clearly religious. The service was respectful delivered by a celebrant who listened intently to our needs, made appropriate suggestions and with the help of the funeral director delivered a service that would have made our daughter happy. It was in a surf life saving facility, overlooking the water; we read the lyrics of each of the pieces of carefully selected modern music (no religious music) chosen by her friends to ensure wording was appropriate. At the commencement of the service I began my eulogy by speaking to the casket holding my daughter to tell her I was fulfilling her wishes and I was a proud dad, turning to the family and friends present I explained how we had arrived at our decision about the service (placating family concerns) and that for one small exception we had delivered our daughters wishes; the exception being she would have prefered we were all wearing thongs and shorts. Managed to make everyone smile.
    My daughter was a single, middle age world traveller without any dependents. We had discussed her superannuation and death cover over the years listing her brother as the nominated beneficiary and myself as administrator. The fund delivered to these instructions, although there was one contentious issue regarding insurance as my daughter had been travelling internationally for 4 years and did not die in Australia.
    The one item we failed to complete was power of attorney for her (mine current) which in the circumstances has not proved a difficulty.
    All those chats over a glass of wine during the years made the experience a little easier.
    Tib
    10th Nov 2017
    8:16pm
    If Victoria passes their euthanasia laws does that mean people from other states can go there to die? I understand it's not law yet? Anyone know.
    Jennie
    10th Nov 2017
    10:21pm
    I expect you would have to be a resident of Victoria. But how long would you need to have an address there? The Victorian legislation if passed, will be very restrictive.
    Tib
    11th Nov 2017
    8:09am
    Jennie You're probably right hopefully it will spread to other states , it's our only hope for a decent death.
    Jennie
    11th Nov 2017
    9:36am
    Actually it's not our only hope. A better way than the restrictive laws in Victoria is to DIY in a way that is not selfish - that is not causing trauma to a train driver and/or making a bloody mess...
    I don't want to be patronised by doctors by giving me permission to die. It's my life and my choice. How dare they presume.
    I do not of course oppose euthanasia by doctors as it will benefit a few, but I do believe in taking responsibility for my own life and death.
    Tib
    11th Nov 2017
    11:47am
    Sounds good Jennie but a needle sounds better than a rope or a gun in the mouth.
    Jennie
    11th Nov 2017
    4:51pm
    A rope or a gun comes into my definition of selfish. There is a better way.
    Tib
    11th Nov 2017
    5:18pm
    Ok Jennie you have me intrigued. Why is a gun or rope selfish and what is a better way?
    Jennie
    11th Nov 2017
    7:55pm
    A gun is selfish due to the bloody mess left for someone to clear up. A person hanging on a rope is also traumatic. I would not be allowed to tell you what is a good way on this website. Join Exit International, attend your local Chapter meetings and you will find out. Please note, I do not advocate the purchase of illegal drugs or the ingestion of poisons.
    Tib
    11th Nov 2017
    8:11pm
    Jennie death is a messy business, even those who die of cancer which is slow and painful can be traumatic for those who care. I have bought a book from exit international some years ago , at the time I didn't find the information convincing. Hopefully the information has improved, at some point I may be in touch with them again.In any case I wish you the best. Thanks for the information.


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