I’d say that we all want to live forever, but that’s not quite true. I couldn’t stomach the thought. At least not the way things are now. Throw in paradise and it’s sounding a bit better. Anyway, whatever your feelings on eternal life (here or elsewhere) are, as things stand now there’s going to be a time when your life will end.

If you’re like one of my friends, it’ll happen when you least expect it, driving home from work. Everything will be over before you can say “boo.” She was only 22.

Or you are like my mom and have a terminal illness which means that you’re not really sure when it’s going to happen but you know that it’ll be within a few years.

Or you may be like me…maybe you have no clue when or how it’ll happen. Maybe tonight, maybe when I’m 95.

Or perhaps you just end up in a situation from which you may recover but you can’t speak for yourself.

I was talking with a friend a few months ago and she mentioned that she had just filled out something called the Five Wishes. It’s easy to fill out and helps you put things in order for a situation where you’ll be unable to communicate your own wishes. It’s a living will, but it goes beyond medical treatment to personal, spiritual, and emotional wishes.

From the site:

The Five Wishes document helps you express how you want to be treated if you are seriously ill and unable to speak for yourself. It is unique among all other living will and health agent forms because it looks to all of a person’s needs: medical, personal, emotional and spiritual. Five Wishes also encourages discussing your wishes with your family and physician.

Five Wishes lets your family and doctors know:

1. Which person you want to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them.
2. The kind of medical treatment you want or don’t want.
3. How comfortable you want to be.
4. How you want people to treat you.
5. What you want your loved ones to know.

The disadvantage is that it’s apparently only available through purchase. Maybe you can talk your HR into purchasing it. Or maybe you’d be ok with spending the $5 to get a copy. Or perhaps you can find a similar document…though 5 Wishes has the advantage of meeting legal requirements in 40 states. Here’s more information state-specific rules, a few states require you to be in a nursing home and such.

A PDF of the 5 Wishes is available here. The site says that it can’t be printed and is only available for preview. That seems true offhand, though I’ve found that tech savvy people can pretty much do whatever they want when they’ve gotten their hands on something. Or you can use it as a basis for your own document.

Free living wills may be available, for instance, in NOLO books at your library. I believe mine has them. You can probably make copies in the library itself. Just make sure it works for your state’s laws.

Some people don’t like to prepare for the inevitable because they worry about jinxes. We are all going to die someday. Setting this up isn’t really about death…it is about creating a better living situation for you and your family. Peace of mind for you now and when the time to use it comes, your loved ones will know what kind of care you want.

My mom has put together something similar which gives us some peace of mind because we know how she’d like to go when she’s going.

Thanks to Lazy Man for getting me thinking about this, Jean Chatzky for reminding me about the Five Wishes, and my friend Melissa for introducing me to the Five Wishes.

This is not a paid review, just something I’ve been thinking about these last few days.

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The Friday Gathering: Japanese Maple Edition
April 11, 2008 at 8:05 am


Vered April 9, 2008 at 1:41 pm

“Some people don’t like to prepare for the inevitable because they worry about jinxes. We are all going to die someday”. Very true. We have a will and a healthcare directive. We are going to die anyway, might as well make our wishes known and clear.

I am sorry about your mom’s illness, and about your friends’ death.

Aryn April 9, 2008 at 2:35 pm

Go to http://compassionandchoices.org to get free living will and healthcare power of attorney forms for your state emailed to you.

Cath Lawson April 9, 2008 at 7:00 pm

Hi Mrs M – that sounds like a great idea. I think I’ll check it out. As you said – you just never know when the end will come.

Mind you, you have to be so careful that people who have your true interests at heart are aware of these documents. I knew one woman whose husband made a living will and she went against his wishes with many things because – she couldn’t be bothered! He even missed out on the private healthcare he’d paid into for years.

Nicole April 9, 2008 at 7:23 pm

It’s a hard thing to be thinking about but one that more people need to consider. You don’t want your loved ones to have to make these tough choices. Trying to figure out my own father’s wishes days after he died was difficult on a lot of levels… the less people have to go through that, the better!

Susan April 9, 2008 at 9:09 pm

I’m so sorry to hear about your mother and your friend. Both very difficult situations.

It’s wise to consider a health care power of attorney and/or an advanced directive, especially if you have specific requests regarding your care in the event you are unable to make your own decisions.

Filling out a will and updating it when necessary is also another important thing to do.

Ryan [email protected] April 10, 2008 at 2:13 am

In real life, I’m a social worker in a medical center, so I have a lot of experience with this stuff. I tell everyone I can to do your AHCD and do it now, and update it when necessary. The Five Wishes is a great document but it’s not valid in every single state; check the laws of your state to see if it applies. Suze Orman has or used to have a pretty cheap CD that would produce AHCDs and wills; that may be a great way to go. Those of us where I work will do AHCDs for people and get it notarized (provided we can find an available notary) for free!

cybele April 10, 2008 at 4:31 am

My sister-in-law and mother-in-law, both of whom died within the last few years, were pretty specific about how they wanted to live out their last days and hours and we learned from both.
In my sister-in-law’s case, she specifically did not want life support, knowing, as she did, the consequences of ALS (a form of sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease)…and…she wanted to give away some money she had saved to some of her more needy friends. She typed a note to ask that we buy 9 envelopes, but never managed to tell us who the friends were, and then quite suddenly died. We looked through her things and her lists and her last scrawled notes and made an educated guess and made 9 friends happy. It would have been nice, though, to know that we’d picked the right ones. On the other hand, had she lived, she would have needed the money, of course, so it was rather a late thought, I suppose.
My mother-in-law, on the other hand, never talked about what care she did and didn’t want, so we had to make those decisions for her when she was in a coma. On the other hand, she’d filled out a little book with all the things you’d need to know, including her name, birth date, social security number, and all the details of her funeral — where, what music, which minister, which hymns, cremation or not, and so on. She also listed the things she specifically wanted to go to one person or another — jewelry, mostly, but also things like some crystal glasses and various other items. (She never made a will, despite years of urging, but this worked fine.) It was a great help because we all felt we were doing what she wanted.
One of my other relatives-in-law did the same…she even specified what to serve at the coffee afterwards; and, she left a letter to each of her children, written a few years before and a bit out of date, but full of her love and hopes for them.
I’ve learned from all of this, but I’m not in a hurry to learn more from similar experiences. May those I love outlive me!

plonkee April 10, 2008 at 7:13 am

I think the reason that this is important isn’t so much for the person concerned, as for their family/friends. Feeling that you are following someone else’s wishes can be extremely comforting. In that vein, it might be better not to be more specific than necessary – things often don’t turn out the way we envisage.

Trent Hamm April 10, 2008 at 9:15 am

If you’re concerned about someone, talk to them about it. Have the courage to start that conversation with them – it’s really important. If you don’t know how to even get started, try reading Charles Schwab’s book “It Pays to Talk” – check it out at the library. It certainly helped me a lot with figuring out how to talk to my family about such hard issues.

Funny about Money April 10, 2008 at 8:10 pm

You must be sure to give someone you trust medical power of attorney.

My father had a living will that explicitly said what he wanted–or more to the point, did NOT want–should he ever be in exactly the state he fell into after a stroke at the age of 84. His doctor (aptly named “Dr. Mort”–no joke!) refused to honor it. My stepmother, who had medical power of attorney, had to fight to keep my father from being intubated and otherwise tortured to keep him alive artificially. As a result, Dr. Mort quit.

If a doctor doesn’t want to abide by a patient’s living will, all he has to do is walk away. When a doctor “fires” a patient, it’s almost impossible to get another doctor to step in. I was unable to do so.

Consequently, my father was transferred to a nursing home, where he was given no pain-killers or palliative care of any kind. He died of thirst and concomitant kidney failure. Anyone who tells you that dying of thirst is an easy way to go (something I recently saw on a site somewhere in the blogosphere) is mistaken.

My father was 84 years old and a cardiac invalid. He repeatedly told me that had he known how much he would suffer after he had his heart attack (at the age of 80, when doctors responded with a quadruple bypass), he would never have called for help. He was ready to go. But his doctor, who was determined to keep him alive no matter in what state, disregarded his explicit wishes.

You can’t rely on a doctor, even one you think is trustworthy, to make these decisions.

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