If you become ill, DOES YOUR FAMILY KNOW . . .  who is in charge of your medical decisions? If not, this may be the ideal time to hold the family meeting you’ve been postponing—electronically.  We may be practicing isolation, but we are not without the means to communicate. All of us are currently concerned about one another, and many activities are suspended. Why not use this unusual awareness of our vulnerability to discuss who you have appointed as your medical and legal representatives, your final arrangements, and anything else on your Heritage of Hope Checklist that loved ones need to know? Perhaps this is an opportunity to model your faith in a very practical way.

If you have not yet given your chosen medical advocate legal authority, you are not without the means to do so–even in isolation. Since these important choices deserve more than quick answers, you might want to review a previous blog that discusses your decision–making power regarding your care at the end of life.  http://finishlifewell.org/who-decides-when-we-take-our-last-breath.  Next, take advantage of the current offer from Five Wishes in response to COVID-19. You may click on the link below, fill out your Five Wishes form on line, and print it at no charge. Thinking and praying through this form now will give you and your medical advocate peace of mind when it matters. Once signed by you and two witnesses, your Five Wishes will be valid in most states.

Recognizing the importance of this moment for all of us, Five Wishes is taking the unprecedented step of making the Five Wishes document available online to individuals at no cost for a limited time.  Use it for yourself.  Use it for your parents, spouse, siblings, adult children, extended family, and friends. Just use it.  If you completed Five Wishes a long time ago, now is a good time to update your document. https://fivewishes.org/five-wishes-covid-19?

It is strongly suggested that you discuss your preferences for crisis care in some detail with the person you’ve chosen to be your medical advocate. When you are compromised, you may not be able to speak for yourself. None of us can know the circumstances in advance, but we can discuss our preferred options with our chosen decision maker. For example, a person may invest heavily in their health via diet and strenuous exercise yet not want to endure radical medical treatments. An uninformed advocate could interpret their rigorous self-care as a desire to live as long as possible—whatever it takes and unknowingly counter the person’s desire to die peacefully at home. However, if you and your medical advocate have talked your way through the options under Wish 2 on the Five Wishes form, you can both know they will be exercising your wishes.

If you become ill, DOES YOUR FAMILY KNOW . . . who is in charge of your finances? Your medical representative does not need to be the same person who is in charge of your finances. While both need to be capable of rational decisions in the midst of crisis, each role is unique. You have the power to alleviate conflict and misunderstandings by selecting your decision-makers in advance. Confer with them, so you know they are willing, and then empower them legally. Having the voice of authority in the midst of crisis is a tough job. Informing family members of your wishes and who is to carry this weight can ease the burden greatly and avoid much conflict. Please consider setting up a virtual family meeting. If you are not so skilled, ask a friend to assist you.

In the midst of a crisis, few are immune to strong emotions. Some folks tend to be compassionate rescuers shielding and shepherding those who are grieving. Others are accustomed to leadership positions and just assume they are in charge when, perhaps, they are not. Such strong default instincts can do tremendous relational damage. Accordingly, it is essential that you let family members know who is in charge of your decisions when you cannot be.  Advance notice allows folks time to deal with jealousy, disappointment, and resentments long before the fact. Family discussions also allow you to invite people to fill other essential positions.

If you become ill, DOES YOUR FAMILY KNOW . . . how they can help? When one is suddenly isolated, hospitalized or dies, many needs will surface. (1) Are there pets? In a crisis with my father, one of our daughters stepped forward and assumed responsibility for her grandpa’s pets. How grateful all of us were. (2) Another need is a gatekeeper—a strong diplomat who can field phone calls and visitors in order to guard your need for peace and quiet yet still appease friends and inquisitive neighbors. I observed a friend’s daughter carry out this challenging role beautifully. Since my friend was well-loved by her community, the household would have been chaotic had she not had a gatekeeper. (3) Another role is that of informing family and friends of what has happened, when the service will be held, or how your recovery is progressing. If you are dealing with a long illness, Caring Bridge https://www.caringbridge.org/ can be a helpful tool. (4) You may need someone to manage the kitchen for a time—keeping track of meals provided and what casserole dish belongs to whom. (5) Finally, daily chores continue to come up—laundry and housecleaning! My sister-in-law was recently given the gift of a deep housecleaning. Having been ill for some time, she was delighted with this practical, thoughtful gift.

I vividly recall the teamwork I observed at a memorial service for a friend with three grown sons. His death was sudden, so his wife was pretty much undone. One son stayed by her side the entire time. If someone was too inquisitive or insensitive during the reception, this son excused them and moved his mother on to another guest.  Another son stayed by the door greeting their guests and answering questions. The third son was a rover overseeing their many guests as well as the food offered. Such cooperation and loving respect for their mother was beautiful to behold. You know your support system. Give this area some thought and if you can, give everyone a job they could do to express their love and support. A constructive focus will help everyone you love.

DOES YOUR FAMILY KNOW? That is the crucial question. You may have all of these things in order. If your family does not know your plans and know them well—there will still be confusion, crisis, and conflict. I urge you to hold family meetings; use Zoom or Skype to hold conference calls and discuss these challenging roles. Consider it somewhat like a fire drill. Whether you actually experience an emergency or a slow decline,  your people will know your exit plan and wishes, who’s in charge of what, as well as their own job and how they may best support you and one another. There are hard things in this life we cannot alleviate, but this is one area in which knowing the plan makes all the difference—it creates a support team.