My 89 year old father was in Florida, in a hospital for a few days, before hospice care had been elected.
When some health problems had piled up on him before, he typically still had his wits about him, even if frail, and could communicate. Up until 10 days before his death in late 2010, my dad, a former Marine stationed in the Pacific during WW II, and former plumber and heater contractor for decades, often did a few crossword puzzles a day. And my father wasn’t adverse to taking action when called for, to be in charge of his own life–in fact once at a youthful 83 or so, he left a hospital against medical advice, pulling out the various “iv’s” getting dressed and walking out of a hospital and saying “enough of this, I’m going home” (or more colorful words to that effect that I won’t quote here).
But he wasn’t able to communicate much of anything, in this very last week of his life, in 2010. He had care more or less 24/7 in the hospital just before hospice was chosen, and a wonderfully sweet care attendant was helping to spoon feed him breakfast. One of the items she was feeding him was oatmeal. My dad really hadn’t said anything coherent to us for a few days now, his mumbling or tormented statements seemed a bit like “word salad” to us. We couldn’t really understand him.
But at that moment in a hospital room in Fort Myers Florida, my dad said, as the aide dutifully tried feeding him: “I hate oatmeal.” Many of us kids were in the room, some of my siblings and even in-laws, and many of us had taken up jobs and roles in helping my dad stay at home as long as humanly possible. I was very certain of his medical wishes, his thoughts on treatment, as well as when medical treatments could end, and we all knew that he was less energized at the tail end of his life, having lost his wife of more than 44 years (a second marriage) almost 4 years previous.
I knew a lot about my dad, and his wishes, and his finances, but I didn’t know my dad didn’t like oatmeal.
I knew where he kept investments, knew where he banked, had a rough idea of the value of his home (we kids had been urging him to sell his place and move in with one of us or to an assisted living place or a senior apartment for almost a year–another story for another day–let’s just say he only reluctantly agreed to that idea in concept and only on the last few months of his life), knew what special things he wanted allocated and to whom, knew what some of his favorite meals were, knew which bills he paid regularly, but I had no clue he hated oatmeal. But perhaps I should have.
Given how long many of us are living now, and given the medical interventions that might allow us to live longer, even with some tough medical conditions that might have killed us in earlier eras, it might be smart for all of us to also leave a bit of values/quality of life statement around.
After all, most all the legal things that attorneys suggest we get in place, such as a medical power of attorney, a durable power of attorney for finances, and documents that come into play largely after we die, such as a trust, or especially a will, leave instructions. And by their crafting, such documents might provide a hint of our values or speak to the quality and dignity of our lives, even if we can’t.
But far and away, these documents don’t typically speak much to what is also important. What kind of music or food do we love, what colors please us, what we’d want on a desert island or, were we reduced to a single room in an assisted living facility, what stick of furniture or piece of artwork, or photographs do we treasure, and should be brought along? What visitors would we be happy to see, or conversely, which folks would we rather not have around again? What religious traditions did we grow up with, if any–and what religion do we now embrace or eschew? What clothing do we like to wear if the choice is ours? How do we see ourselves?
If our life “shrinks” some or our independence fades, and perhaps we become more dependent upon others, will those who care for us know these things? And particularly if we no longer (or never) have a spouse around, nor kids, how will this knowledge–how will these small but important things–ever be noted?
At our office, we don’t make a big production of this, but we do encourage, folks to think about this–using a one page (2-sided) document as a cheat sheet. We encourage clients to jot down some notes about these sort of things. We want the folks who might care for you if and when you are disabled, to know just a bit more about you than a legal document or medical chart might convey.
As we tend to live longer these days, there could well be a time when life “shrinks” for us, or communication or control of some aspects of our life fades or is transferred to others. And we think it only right that those others have a clue about you. We want folks to know what you like and hold dear, and we want them to know whether or not you hate oatmeal. Remember, there may come a time when our caregivers don’t know us personally, and won’t really know much about us, know much about our values and likes and dislikes. A little document like this, informal as it may be, might be a good thing, and add to our quality of life as we go forward.
At the law offices of Bradley Vauter & Associates, P.C. we often help address the very human and personal parts of our life, parts that intersect with the law. Should you have any questions and want to set up an appointment for your own new (or updated) estate planning, or if you’d simply like to request the loves/values/life document we give out, feel free to call us at 517 853-8015, or write us at Bradley Vauter & Associates, P.C., 912 Charlevoix Dr. Ste. 120, Grand Ledge, MI 48837.