Often called End of Life Planning, Emergency Health Planning means preparing for a time when you are in a situation where you can not make your own health decisions. It is, also, a time to prepare for what might happen if you do die because of an emergency health situation.
This is a situation most people don’t want to plan for while they are still young but it is vital. Many health legal battles (at least that you hear about in the news) are family members fighting over making a decision about another family member who is unable to make those decisions, such as someone who is in a coma. We think these things won’t happen. We won’t die until we are old but that’s not the truth and it’s unrealistic. The whole point of emergency preparedness is to plan for something that may not happen.
In truth, emergency health planning and end of life planning are not exactly the same thing but it is still something you should be prepared for. Let’s start with the Emergency Health Planning portion before I talk a little about End of Life Planning.
The easiest way to plan for a health emergency is to fill out an Advanced Directive. These are legal documents that you fill out. Some require notarizing and some just have you sign with witnesses present. Each state has their own requirements. Washington doesn’t require notarizing and provides the paperwork for free. You can see that paperwork here.
The paperwork is simple. The first part is Power of Attorney. All this says is that if you are incapable of making your own health decisions a person of your choosing can make those decisions. For Washington, you select 3 people in order (the first person you list is the one that has the power of attorney if all are able to be present).
The second part is the Health Care Directive. This is where you express your desires for your health care in case of situations where you will be on life support. This is not the same as a DNR which states that you are not to be resuscitated (no CPR if your heart stops, etc). This is solely for the case of coma-like states where you are not expected to recover.
Once filled out and signed, the papers are copied and added to medical files and given to those who are your choices for Power of Attorney. It’s a simple way to help your family help you.
Now the hard part comes, you have to talk to your family about your wishes. You have to tell them what it is you expect them to do in situations when you can’t speak for yourself. You can even write a statement explaining what you want.
Once that is done, you might as well move on to the really hard part – what to do if you die. For me, I wanted my body to be donated. My husband has struggled with that because he can’t imagine my body being abused after I die. We’ve had to have many discussions about this over the years. My son has agreed to speak for me in this case and help his father understand that this is what is important to me.
We’ve, also, picked at discussions about being cremated. My husband is okay with the idea of being cremated but is not so excited about talking about where to put our ashes.
That’s important. I’ve had several deaths in the family over the years and all the choices they made have made an impact on the choices I want to make.
My grandparents purchased plots ages ago. When my grandmother began to move to cities away from her plot, my mother had her get a membership to the Neptune Society. Neptune Society is a cremation service that will take care of shipping your remains and all the details after you die. They do not bury anyone.
Because my grandmother was cremated, the cemetery didn’t have to have a full burial. Since she paid for a full burial, they “refunded” the money which allowed the family to host the whole funeral at the cemetery at no extra cost. We had a service in a beautiful chapel and then at the graveside. There was no way we could have put it all together so quickly and efficiently without her pre-planning.
Now when my aunt died, she had all the paperwork to have her body donated and that was all the planning she did. No one expected her “body” to be returned within a month. The university did cremate her but, beyond that, there was no plan. We did manage to have a plaque put up in a cemetery where a number of family members were buried but her ashes currently live in a closet because the family couldn’t agree on what to do with them. I know that in some way my aunt thought she was doing the family a favor but it took an incredibly stressful time and made it even worse.
The thing about this sort of planning is it’s not about you. While it might feel like it is, it’s really about the people left behind. It’s the last gift you can give them. It is so heartbreaking to lose someone you love but to have to figure out all the details while grieving is torture.
There is one more thing I want you to think about while planning for the end. I worked in home care for many years. One thing I saw over and over were spouses left behind with no clue. Some didn’t know what bills they were supposed to pay. Some didn’t know how to do any of the house things.
Many couples have a division of workload in the house and don’t want to bother with the other half. I have to admit we are guilty of that in our house. I know that if I die before my husband our finances are going to be a mess. While I do keep spreadsheets and the like, my husband has no idea where to find this information. And things change. However, it is vital to keep records of all the paperwork and to keep information updated.
So, is that a big dump of information? Sorry.
This is not an easy subject nor is there an easy solution to the planning. I do recommend reading the book Stiff by Mary Roach. It’s all about the different ways we “use” dead bodies, including various research on alternative burials. It’s very thought provoking and the reason my aunt donated her body to the university (and why I want to as well).
Another resource is this website.