five wishes

image of Five Wishes from Aging With DignityMy husband had total knee joint replacement surgery last week. At several points along his pre-op processing, his immediate after surgery care, and so far as he met with the home health care nurse and physical therapist who are part of the joint replacement program, we were asked if he had a living will or medical power of attorney. We both do. And while we waited until we were near 50 to do so, I recommend that no one wait so long.

My brother was diagnosed with Acute Myeolitic Leukemia at 51. He did not have a living will or medical power of attorney. He also didn’t have a will. There was always one too many questions to answer to complete them.

Until he was finally able to open his eyes and move his head to indicate that he understood what people were saying, his beautiful wife was left unable to take care of all the non-medical issues that my brother usually handled — paying the bills, getting information about just how high the credit card balances were.

It isn’t easy to begin thinking or talking about end-of-life issues when you are in the midst of the glory of living. Aging With Dignity offers an easy way to begin the conversation with Five Wishes. The 12 pages pose questions in simple, not legal, language to help think about answers regarding who should act in my place and what extraordinary measures I would like that person and health care providers to take or not take in the event that I cannot express those wishes myself.

Every state has it’s own guidelines for what constitutes a medical power of attorney or living will. Five Wishes meets the requirements in 42 states and us useful in all 50 states.

It doesn’t take a lawyer to get the process started.

the meaning of life

It is the meaning that men attribute to their life, it is their entire system of values that define the meaning and value of old age. The reverse applies: by the way in which a society behaves toward its old people it uncovers the naked, and often carefully hidden, truth about its real principles and aims.

–Simone de Beauvoir, The Coming of Age

old man, look at my life

Back in 1971 when Neil Young gave this performance, he was one of my favorite artists — still is — and I was about the same age as he was — 24, or at least so the song suggests. Being old seemed very, very far away.

I remember the first time I walked into my parents house after being away for several months when my first thought was “old people live here.” My parents weren’t home at the time, so what I noticed was the scent: suggestive of medication and bodily functions. I was brought right back to childhood when we visited my grandparents both at home and in the nursing home where they spent their final days: the scent of old people. It still seemed like my becoming old was very, very far away.

A few months ago, when we were removing everything from the family home to make it ready to put on the market, I brought home my great grandmother’s walker. Mom got it from her mother and used it as a stand for blankets at the end of the bed. After Mom died, it went into the basement where it remained until I had my husband take it apart to put into the back of the car for the drive back home. It sits now on our lower floor, holding aghans for us to use to get warm on the love seat while we watch TV.

Now, the first thing someone notices when they enter our house is a different walker, a modern walker, near the stairs. All the throw rugs that used to adorn the living room have been rolled up and put away. All the furniture in the living room has been rearranged to leave the middle of the room empty, to allow my husband to walk, with the walker, as he rehabilitates after having total knee joint surgery. And there is just a faint suggestion of the scent of bodily functions in the air as my husband recovers from the effects of the surgery, the pain killers that were prescribed to help him get through both the surgery and the physical therapy that will continue for at least the next three months.

I didn’t ever think I would get old.

the effects of aging on happiness

Two views of the relationship of happiness and aging:

This article from The Economist describes how happiness dips during the middle years of life but then trends back up in later years.

http://www.economist.com/node/17722567?story_id=17722567.

This video from TED provides one possible explanation for the dip. I appreciate the comment within it that we sometimes think of happiness as a binary function — either we are happy or we are not — while it is more useful to think of it as a continuum — kind of like the 0 to 10 pain scale hospitals use.

Finally, something to look forward to. . .