My father Hank passed away suddenly this summer at the age of 65. While he wasn’t in the greatest health, this was a huge shock to our family.
I have been outspoken my whole career about the need for all of us to have wills and advance directives. So naturally I hassled my Dad into creating his over a decade ago. And create them he did.
Hank was extremely clear about what he did and did not want for funeral arrangements. But some of what he did want was extremely unconventional (at least for our family). Click here to see a 2 minute video of the story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0EzaGAOll0
For years I have been adamant that every adult should have end of life documents. Countless times I have heard from people that, “my kids will just decide” or “my children will know best.” My response has always been: are you sure they know what you want? And if they do know will they be strong enough to advocate for your wishes if they are not popular with others? Here’s what I learned about human nature (and myself) from this experience:
- You may not know your loved one as well as you think. I knew my Dad pretty well. Despite this, if he had not written down his wishes, I would not have known he would not want a traditional funeral. If I did know, I don’t know if I would have remembered when I was in such a state of shock.
- You may be at risk to succumbing from pressure from others. Even if you are strong-willed, you may feel pressure from others in the family and/or healthcare providers (in advance directive situations). Even though my aunts did not pressure my siblings and me at all, I know that I felt pressure to consider going against some of Hank’s wishes since they deviated from our family’s traditions.
- You may personally be tempted to go off course. Even though Hank did have all of his wishes clearly in writing, I was startled how in an emotional moment I considered not honoring all of his directions because they weren’t what I necessarily wanted. While we did ultimately honor his choices, even a strong advocate can have a weak moment.
If my family and I struggled this much when we had precise detailed information in front of us, what happens when the people that love you are not left written instructions? Chaos. Arguments. Confusion. Who needs that when you are trying to grieve and absorb a painful loss?
I am so grateful to my Dad for making that very sad and shocking day a little simpler for all of us.
Do your loved ones a favor. Give them a road map to your wishes. Talk about it this holiday season. Then make an appointment with your attorney for the New Year.
Jennifer L. FitzPatrick – MSW, LCSW-C, CSP
The founder of Jenerations Health Education, Inc., Jennifer FitzPatrick has over 20 years’ experience in healthcare and gerontology. The author of Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing The Stress of Caring For Your Loved One, she is also a gerontology instructor at Johns Hopkins University and an Education Consultant to the Alzheimer’s Association. She helps you reduce stress and increase productivity, morale and revenue. Jennifer and Cruising Through Caregiving have been featured in Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, The Huffington Post, Reader’s Digest, Univision and The Chicago Tribune. She has also appeared on ABC and Sirius XM.