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.
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.
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?