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Facing tender end-of-life topics head on

By Cherie C. Binns
120608-F-VS478-002-(1).jpgWe, as humans, seem to have a fear of death and details surrounding it so often find it hard to talk about what we want done leading up to and following our own end of life. David and I are currently in the process of setting up trusts for our children and grandkids which entails the design of new wills and durable powers of attorney. This process has forced us to face this tender topic head on, have some honest, if not always comfortable, conversations, and come to some decisions we thought we would not have to make for many years to come.

Probably the first and most important step in this process is to do a simple living will. This is essentially a check list of things you do or do not want to have done to you if you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself. Things such as CPR, tube feeding, blood transfusions, ventilators being used to prolong life may not fit in your wishes or they may be actually very important to have available to you.

Organ donation may be a possibility for you as well, giving a gift of life to a dozen or more individuals once your body is no longer needed by you. This is a tender topic so it is something I suggest you speak with your family about. I spoke with someone recently who said they would donate any organ except their eyes. Things can be tailored to what you, as an individual, are comfortable with. Another option is anatomical donation. This entails donating your body at the time of your death to a medical school or research facility. Your estate would pay transportation cost of your body to the facility then they, in turn, would cremate remains and return them to your family when they were finished learning what they can from you. My parents both chose that option and actually wrote a few pages about who they were and what they were passionate about in life – another way to obtain closure and find peace in the process.

I want to assure you that the process this time (we did this initially nearly 20 years ago) was easier but also more complex than it was the first time we went through it. As we grow older, live life more fully, deal with illness or limitation, our goals and thinking about our own mortality can change. At the point where I initially made my living will, I was deeply affected by the ramifications of my MS, felt lousy all of the time, was struggling with depression and had made the decision that I did not want CPR or a ventilator or any extraordinary life saving measures taken. Today, 24 years after that first living will, my MS is well-managed, I am no longer depressed or in constant pain and my approach is very different. My outlook is brighter. I see more possibility in life and in death. These are things I encourage you to revisit on a regular basis. They are not set in stone and can be changed over time to reflect your current needs and desires and understanding. I suggest that this is something to look at as we leave an old year behind and step into the new or as we celebrate a birthday or anniversary. 

As I noted earlier, my parents went through this process just a few years ago and mother, a writer, summed up the freedom that doing this can bring. It felt like a weight had been lifted to her and I am experiencing that as I revisit the process this time. I would like to share with you a poem she wrote about it:


If you can find amid the day’s confusion
A quietness where doubts and worries cease, 
Where you can dream and turn your dreams to action, 
where you can conquer fear and nourish peace,

If you can stretch your mind to see your future
Imagining the best life holds, and more, 
Then leave behind your little expectations, 
And reach for what the unknown holds in store,

You’ll be enriched in ways you never dreamed of;
You’ll soon become the best that you can be.
And in that day, while living life’s full challenge, 
You’ll find at last that you are truly free!

Cherie C. Binns RN BS MSCN cherie@msfocus.org for questions or comments related to this article.