The G.O. and I often joke… usually as we’re dragging home yet another homeless household item… about the
fortune fate of whoever undertakes the assignment of sorting out the detritus of our lives after our bodies have passed from this earth.
Our plans are each to live a long & pleasant life before peacefully departing its twilight at home at Taylors Arm. In our house with the big verandah, wood fire, modest backyard, pastoral views; which even as we reside in an amply equipped city apartment while we direct our efforts to working life, is similarly fully furnished and a repository for many pre-loved and interesting things that find us… the extent of which caused Dad to dub it “the museum”.
But, you never know…
Recently I noted via irons in the fire “Upon marriage legal wills are revoked, so the day before our nuptials we signed new wills but the accompanying personal wishes + useful information missives could do with refreshing to make them current. Sigh.”
As the walrus said, the time has come… not for the eating of oysters but preparation for the one sure thing in life: death.
By last wishes I don’t mean Dad’s efforts. Although his intention was commendable, the execution was wobbly…
“… a verbal request to me regarding his ‘final wishes’ after his almost fatal heart attack in 2010 and my advice to him to also convey those wishes to others, culminated in the agonising occasion of Dad announcing to an extended family gathering, apropos of nothing, his intention to be cremated and buried with my Mum, forty years dead, in complete disregard of his wife of 30 years and 3 other children – all present except one.”
Of various means, legal and non, available to supplement the conversation everyone should have with loved ones, for communication of final and just-in-case directives we chose legal wills, power of attorney, personal letters to our families, lists of useful -location of keys and documents etc.- info, and informal ‘Living Wills’.
There is an Australian Living Will Registry which “stores your Living Will (Anticipatory Directive, Advance Health Directive, Medical Proxy etc.) electronically and makes it available to relevant Health Care professionals when you need it most”. However, because the circumstances of sudden injury, illness and Living Wills, etc. are uncertain, for current purposes we’re going for the less formal option of personal documents signed and witnessed which can be produced by the other if necessary.
In considering possible scenarios we considered the some recent worst amongst all…
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital a non-fiction book by Sheri Fink: “… the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in August 2005, and is an expansion of a Pulitzer Prize-winning article written by Fink and published in The New York Times Magazine in 2009. It describes the events that took place at Memorial Medical Center over five days as thousands of people were trapped in the hospital without power. The triage system put into effect deprioritized critically ill patients for evacuation, and a number of these patients were euthanized by medical and nursing staff shortly before the entire hospital was evacuated on the fifth day of the crisis. Fink examines the legal and political consequences of the decision to euthanize patients and the ethical issues surrounding euthanasia and health care in disaster scenarios.”
Michael Schumacher: “In December 2013, Schumacher suffered a serious head injury while skiing. He was airlifted to a hospital and placed in a medically induced coma, having suffered a traumatic brain injury. He was in the coma from 29 December 2013 until 16 June 2014. He left the hospital in Grenoble for further rehabilitation at the University Hospital (CHUV) in Lausanne. On 9 September 2014, Schumacher was brought back to his home for further rehabilitation…”
Locked-in-syndrome: “… condition in which a patient is aware but cannot move or communicate verbally due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body except for the eyes” which I only recently heard about via The Guardian article… “Richard Marsh had a stroke doctors wanted to switch off his life-support – but he could hear every word but could not tell them he was alive. Now 95% recovered, he recounts his story.”
For me, the most important parts of communicating my last wishes are:
“Upon my death, I request minimum interference with my remains necessary only to facilitate a proper and legal cremation… I request they are to be placed in the least expensive, most environmentally friendly receptacle available, cremated, and scattered over the river at Taylors Arm, or the ocean by my husband…”
“… provide background to my Will and ask you trust my judgement and honour my wishes… My primary consideration was to provide for the G.O. who I love and who shares my life on a day-to-day basis, as he would for me… In the event I am survived by the G.O., I have left everything to him. He is my long-term friend and life partner and will be affected most by my death and absence, and I don’t want his life disrupted any more than it has to be.”
I gave thought to my personal belongings and came to the realisation that once both the G.O. & I have gone, I have faith in the thoughtfulness of those to whom the task falls, and only made one stipulation “If there are any pets, I trust that you will ensure they are well cared for”, probably unnecessarily as our families are kind souls and animal lovers all.
“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things…”
The Walrus and The Carpenter, Lewis Carroll
(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)
16 thoughts on “last wishes”
It’s a tricky one, leaving instructions for one’s survivors. I have not only a legal will leaving everything barring one or two keepsakes to the Husband, but also a living will saying I do not wish to be heroically resuscitated, and I actually don’t much care what happens to the meat bit of me once the light has gone out in my head… Of course, in an ideal world one would die peacefully at the same time as and in the company of one’s other half, with all affairs in order and the bills paid, but life has a way of putting the kybosh on that kind of tidiness!
It’s amazing when the subject of wills comes up how many people don’t have one, and also some who don’t realize they are revoked by marriage. I understand death is a sensitive subject for some but better to deal with it practically as you have done. And, it may well be yet that we get our solicitor to draw up a formal legal living will. Food for thought.
I believe you can download a correct form of words for a living will, and so long as it’s properly signed and witness by a JP, it has legal force. The main thing is to make sure you tell someone where it is, or take it into hospital with you if you’re having surgery, etc.
I have the legal form, and will get it witnessed at work by a lawyer (for me) and by a JP for the G.O., to be used at our discretion. I’m just averse to the idea of lodging it somewhere and possibly losing control of its effect…
Some random thoughts.
My mother asked my father what he would like to happen after death, cremation or burial: he replied, ‘surprise me’.
I have too many things and I worry that my daughter won’t deal with them: she is a hoarder. Iam not ready to part with my things yet.
My sister- in -law likes to joke with my mother about her ‘things’. I’ll put my name on the bottom of that one now, she says. It annoys the shit out of us.
The simpler the will, the easier it is on every one else.
Thank you, dying doesn’t have to be a serious topic, especially when dealt with at a distance… when living. I love your dad’s response.
My sister-in-law’s ‘retirement plan’ hinges solely on her inheritance (which annoyingly for her she’d have to share with the G.O.) and guesstimates when she might collect… it annoys the shit out of us! But the fly in her ointment is that her mother and step-father come from long-lived families, which annoys the shit out of her! We have our own house and finances, we’d be happy to never have occasion to collect that inheritance.
When a loved one passes there are various schools of thought about sorting out their belongings -sooner, or later. My aunt was rushed by her siblings to sort out their mother’s affairs, it was very sad for her and too soon. My stepmother after 5 years is only just letting go of her mother’s belongings.
And some people sort it out before they go, but when and if the time is right. Regardless, living happily is what’s important.
Yes, indeed. It seems our ister-in laws have similar inclinations. I can also happily say that inheritance is irrelevant to me. As time marches on, ( do I hear time’s winged charoit drawing near ?) one is inclined to think about these things.
Like my Dad, I don’t much care because I won’t be there, but it’s good not to leave a mess behind for others to wade through.
I hear of more disastrous wills than simple ones- perhaps only the bad ones receive attention. Those who are inclined to ‘rule from the grave” -love that expression. I am hoping to rule from the kitchen.
Ruling from the kitchen is a fine legacy in this life, and beyond 🙂
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What a beautiful treatment of a difficult subject. One I keep putting off, but would hope to handle as you have done.
I have very little in the way of family and no children. My husband is younger than me – and the temptation is just to shrug – meh – I won’t be around – but consideration for others is part of our lives. I also think of my mother and father – he died first and had always said, bury me in an apple box at the bottom of the garden. My mum had him cremated. He would have loathed the idea – but that was what she wanted for herself. I was in Africa when my mother died – and my sister, duly, had her cremated. But I, too, want an environmentally sound burial and if my body is of any use to anyone after years of mistreatment then they can have the bits they want! Possessions – well, my husband surprised me after a year of going to church as an experiment by saying he wanted to leave the majority of our ‘estate’ as they call it but believe me we don;t have a deer park! – to the Saint Vincent de Paul Society which works with very poor people.He is, was and will be an atheist. Life and death are full of surprises. Thank you for this, Ella, you are a very thoughtful person.
Thank you 🙂 I also have no children but the G.O. does. Our priority is to take care of each other, and although if we live those planned long lives the residual estate would be very modest in real terms, to the beneficiaries it will make a difference both financially and emotionally, and not have to deal with intestacy. If I thought there’d be any significant excess, I’d too leave it to charity.
I love your dad’s response suggesting humorously but accurately the truth that once we’re gone the people that such things matter to are the ones remaining.
Our main chore when we return from our current travels is to update the Wills. I learned when stipulating cremation in the Will that you need to stipulate this verbally or in other writing with signature that is readily available as the Will is not usually read until after this decision needs to be made. my parents used to continually ask us what of their possessions we wanted. It was a strange process, to which we responded with little enthusiasm, for many reasons. Thank you for this thought provoking post EllaDee.
Good point regarding final wishes for the body vs the effects. We have a separate note but it’s the conversations that are important. As a society we don’t tend to discuss the arrangements around our final wishes but when it does eventuate… everyone has disaster stories. Not wanting to put ‘dibs’ on certain items is understandable. Not my style either, although I have encountered others…
Enjoy your travels 🙂
Writing my will is a task I’ve been postponing for some time and one I really should tackle now, while I seemingly have my full wits about me. I find it an uncomfortable process but believe it a necessary one, especially being there is no significant other in my life. As it is, the state is my partner and that’s just plain stupid on my part. Thanks for nudging me in the right direction, EllaDee.
It’s a prosaic process but I found there were nuances that matter, and even when I had no significant other there were those I liked the thought of benefiting, and who still will ultimately when the G.O. and I have passed… life goes on.
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I think it’s important to have a will. I don’t have one. It’s been on my to do list for a while, thanks for the reminder. 🙂
I know making a will is something that’s easy to put off, as it’s a hassle to think about, usually arrangements with a legal provider are needed but once it’s done unless something changes there’s no need to think about it. Sometimes all it takes is someone else to provide the impetus 🙂