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First, get your last wishes out of the way

(ran NP, HT, CI editions)

Recently, I decided to start planning for my demise. Not that I expect it soon. I hope to have another 50 years _ 40 of which will be spent in a nursing home, maybe, but I hope to have them nonetheless.

I've never been a planner, but I do think there are some things you can't think about too soon.

For example, I once read (probably in a tabloid that I would never purchase, but might peruse while waiting in line) how Bryant Gumbel keeps a list, and updates it regularly, of the people he wants to be pallbearers at his funeral.

Okay, perhaps that's not the best example. The story was probably a total fabrication. Unlike the one that claimed "Joan Rivers Ate My Baby." But my point is that it never hurts to plan. In matters of life and death, it can be a godsend.

When my late husband was told he had cancer, he insisted on dragging me with him, even before the surgery, to an attorney to put his affairs in order, complete with a family trust, a living will and a durable power of attorney.

I didn't want to do it, didn't want to think about it and didn't get a choice. But when it was done, it was done. And in the last days of his life, with better things to think about, we didn't have to think about legalities.

Besides my children, it was the best gift he ever gave me.

But what caused me recently to start thinking about how I'd like to spend my last days was a booklet called "Five Wishes."

I got it for free by renewing my membership in the Hospice Foundation. You can also order it from Aging with Dignity (toll-free 1-888-594-7437). Like the bottle that holds the genie, the $5 cost and simplicity of the booklet belie its value. It asks you to list five wishes:

+ Whom do you want to make your health-care decisions if you can't make them for yourself?

+ What medical treatments do you want or not want?

+ How comfortable do you want to be kept?

+ How do you want people to treat you?

+ What do you want your loved ones to know?

The booklet explains each of the wishes _ and how to make sure they'll be granted _ in more depth and detail than space allows in this column. It also offers suggestions for things to consider and possibilities that might not occur to most of us.

It is thought-provoking, at least, and at best it's a chance to make decisions while you can and sleep like a baby at night. You can even add your own touches. It is, after all, your life.

I, for instance, plan to answer a few questions for my children:

Q: Should we sell the house?

A: Only if you clean your room.

Q: What did you do with my comic books/hamster/journal?

A. I forget.

Q: Did you and dad fool around before you got married?

A. Never mind.

Q: What happened to our inheritance?

A: I spent it.

Q: What should I do with my life?

A: Live it well.

Q: Who'll fill our Christmas stockings and Easter baskets?

A: You will fill them for each other; I'll be watching.

Q: Will you ever forget me?

A: Never in a million years.

Q: Who do you love best?

A: You.

If you haven't thought about how you want to spend the last days of your life, think about it now. Or soon. Decide what you want and put it into writing. Then you won't have to think about it again. And you can concentrate on spending your children's inheritance.

Sharon Randall is the author of "Birdbaths and Paper Cranes" available in bookstores or toll-free 1-800-487-2323 or www.sleepingbearpress.com. She can be reached at srandall(at)montereyherald.com.

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