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)
A week or so ago we lost a friend. He was born on the last day of 1954, not quite 6 months before the G.O. The brief notice in the local newspaper closed with the words “Sadly missed by all his mates”. Mates who could only witness the inexorable claim illness made on his life. But mates who drove him to doctors appointments, visited hospitals, mowed the lawn, brought food their missuses made, delivered & chopped wood for the fire in his living room that was the only thing even before the onset of winter keeping him warm, and much more. Mates who at the end when there was no more to be done, sat by his side, at his home.
To me he was a friend. One of the first I made in the village. He was a man of interchangeable aspects: flair for life; and for self destruction. He was also private and generous. I’m not sure he shared the full details of his condition with any one person. The cruel physical manifestations of its progress were testimony enough.
He wasn’t being spared himself but elected to spare others if they wished and so faded from social life, retreating from company but not unwelcoming of it, as his corporeal presence diminished. The last time we saw him was a month and a week before he left us.
Each time we visited our friend this year, the G.O. and I prepared ourselves for it to be the last. Up until late the year before he would ask, when are you coming home for good? It was when he stopped asking I really began to worry.