Before sitting down to write this blog, I had several themes running through my head. Topics ranged from national concern (under-utilization of hospice and palliative care) to the imperative of making personal quality-of-life decisions to dispelling some myths about hospice. But earlier this morning I picked up “O” magazine in the drugstore. The title story caught my attention – “Stop Worrying and Start Living” screamed at me from beside Oprah’s radiant face and her brilliant red outfit.
The gist of this issue of “O” is to get control over our worrying/fretting and stop wasting our precious time. I could relate more than I like to admit. Like most worriers, I worry a lot. And it seems we worriers mostly worry about things that are out of our control and will likely never happen. Most worry seems fueled by over-active imagination and a focus on remote things that could happen but probably won’t (i.e., contracting avian flu, my plane crashing, etc.).
I used to worry about dying. When my son was a toddler, I worried about dying and leaving him alone in his young life (even though my brother and parents would have taken excellent care of him IF something happened to me). I worried about my mom dying. If you’re a follower of our blog, you know that she’d been chronically ill my entire life, so we always “expected” that death could come any day to take her away from us. When dad had his first heart attack, I worried about him dying but I also worried about what would happen to mom who was so dependent on dad. I worried about death, as I imagine many people do, but I didn’t talk about my worries with anyone. Kept it all to myself and endured panic attacks allowing the fretting to overtake me on occasions.
You’ll see above that I said I used to worry about dying. Maybe it’s the wisdom gained from having lived 50 years, or that my son is nearly 30 and carving out his own life, or my experiences with my parents and beloved family members’ deaths, that now give me the strength to contemplate the end of my life without worry and trepidation. I’m pretty sure that some of my worry was lessened by the loss of a dear friend on April 30th. The notion of possibly seeing her and my parents again in some form is comforting. My eye-witness experiences with my mom and other hospice patients “talking” to previously departed loved ones has decreased my fear.
Obviously there are more years behind me now than ahead of me. In all reality, I don’t expect to live to be 100 after all. (I’m sure that I wouldn’t want to unless my mind and body remained sound – which is unlikely for most of us). So when I consider that I may only live another 30 years or so (assuming my longevity more closely follows that of my grandparents than my parents), I know that I don’t want to waste any more time worrying about death. It is going to happen … someday. And I will have little to no control over it. In the meantime, I can do some things that are in my control to relieve my anxiety.
I can revise my Will to provide for expenses to be paid, for my estate to be distributed, and for charitable donations to be made. I can write out documents that will bestow power of attorney to make financial and healthcare decisions on my behalf. And I can talk with my loved ones about my choices and help them understand why my choices are important to me. I can control the kind of treatment I want (or want to refuse) as my death draws near. I have written out my Five Wishes form (www.agingwithdignity.com) so that my husband (and everyone else who reads it) will know that I want my cats on my bed with me, that I want my loved ones to visit me and hold my hand and to tell me they love me even if I can’t reply. I even have things written down that seem silly in the larger scheme of D-E-A-T-H, but they matter to me (e.g., I am uncomfortable if my feet are cold, so I’ve noted that I always want to be wearing socks!). I’ve written out my wish for cremation and my memorial service program down to the scriptures and songs, and I’ve even requested that people wear brightly colored clothes to celebrate our relationships, not mourn my departure. I’ve done all of this for several reasons:
- To ensure that my death experience will be as close to my desires as possible
- To relieve my family and friends of the overwhelming burden of having to make these decisions on my behalf
- To reduce feelings of anxiety and guilt for those whom I will leave on this earth
- To be sure that those I love know it through this planning, my last loving act
Now that it’s all written down, I just need to review it each year (or more frequently). Most importantly, I need to keep talking about my preferences with those I love to help them become more comfortable with my final journey. And, finally, I can take Oprah’s advice — stop worrying and start living!
Caring Choices is ready to help you stop worrying. Take that first step – give us a call.
(c) 2013 Caring Choices