Believers in Christ know they have a hope and a future in heaven after life here is over. They know with confidence the sting of death doesn’t last.
Even so it can be hard to face mortality and end-of-life issues. It can also be hard to walk with loved ones who are nearing the end of their lives and be reminded they won’t always be around.
But it’s important to prepare intentionally and think through the things needed to make the last years of life as smooth and comfortable as possible. Careful planning helps loved ones know how to carry out end-of-life wishes.
Here are a few things to consider.
1. Choosing an adviser
Preparing financially for the last years of one’s life is an important step. Many people enlist a financial planner to help navigate their financial needs and goals.
Others who might be helpful include an investment adviser to help plan long-term strategies, an insurance agent to review long-term care insurance options or an estate-planning attorney to help draft needed legal documents.
But AARP advises individuals to do their research when choosing an adviser. Get referrals from friends and family then request an interview with at least three professionals. If they don’t offer a free initial meeting cross them off the list.
And during a consultation ask questions about their credentials and what and how they charge for their services. (Learn more at www.aarp.org/money.)
2. Collecting documents
An estate-planning attorney can help draft important documents such as a will, a financial power of attorney and directives for end-of-life decisions.
These decisions can be hard to face, but it’s important for family members and caregivers to have guidance on critical medical decisions for their loved ones such as resuscitation or intubation. Advance planning can ease everyone’s mind.
It’s also helpful to have other documents in one place and to let someone else know where they are — things like contact information for doctors and attorneys, social security numbers, birth certificates, marriage or divorce papers, military records, bank and tax information, username and passwords for website or accounts and funeral arrangements.
3. Choosing care
Faced with a major medical situation, palliative care or hospice care could provide comfort for you or a loved one.
The quick difference between the two is this — while both seek to improve quality of life, hospice is focused on the terminally ill.
Hospice care begins when a person’s treatment has ended and he or she is expected to live for six months or less. Its goal is to keep a person comfortable and free of pain as much as possible.
Palliative care has different goals in mind than simply pain relief and comfort. It begins at the time of diagnosis and can be used for a wide range of conditions from cancer to dementia. It’s a multifaceted approach to finding treatments and care that work for the individual’s situation.
Both palliative care and hospice can be offered at a person’s home or at a long-term care facility. Physicians can help determine which type of care is right for an individual’s situation.
Like with financial advisers ask around and do some research to determine what services are available in your area and can best provide what you or your loved one needs.
4. Conversing intentionally
One way to be intentional about making the most of your final years, months and days is to have needed conversations with friends and family.
If you’re the one nearing the end of your life make a point to invite your loved ones into these types of conversations — they have things they want and need to express.
It may be that you have some relationships that need healing. If so, now is the time to approach that in love.
And if you’re on the other end of that conversation and you’re caring for a loved one who is nearing the end, there may be some things you need to say.
David Heineman, a chaplain with Crossroads Hospice and Palliative Care, has a list he calls the five essential things to say to someone nearing the end of his or her life:
1. Please forgive me.
“If you believe your loved one holds any grievances towards you it will be of great relief to the both of you to let those go,” Heineman said.
2. I forgive you.
To say this to dying loved ones can offer them peace in their final days.
3. I love you.
No matter how recently you’ve said it say it again, Heineman said. “If ever there was a time to share these words it’s now.”
4. Thank you.
Whether it’s thanking the person for being who he or she is or for the way he or she taught you or cared for you, it’s important to express that gratitude — and soon.
If goodbye is too hard to say try something like, “Until we meet again.”
A downloadable resource containing all the articles in the “Where do we go from here? Growing older, caring well” series is available at www.TABonline.org/caregiving.
‘They chose joy’: Finding the best time and place to begin assisted-living, end-of-life care
Up until their early 90s, Lori Brooks’ parents lived in the home her dad had built on top of a mountain.
“They stayed there as long as they could, but it got to the point that just doing daily chores was hard, like going to the mailbox or getting the grass cut,” Brooks said.
So they moved into an assisted living apartment at the Oaks on Parkwood, located in the Hoover area.
Brooks’ sister decorated it to look as much like their home on the hill as she could. They wanted their parents to be as comfortable as possible in the transition.
“They chose joy and they did great,” Brooks said. “Mother especially did really well there. She loved the activities.”
But as the years went on Brooks and her sister knew they were starting the journey of “walking them home.”
About four years after her parents moved to the Oaks her dad developed heart failure and had a heart attack. Soon after he passed away while the sisters held hands over his bed and sang the hymn “Amazing Grace.”
“We watched as God took him to heaven,” Brooks said.
Her mother, Freda Sheffield, lived in her apartment at the Oaks for four more years after her husband’s death. Her church, North Highlands Baptist Church, Hueytown, in Bessemer Baptist Association, ministered to her, sending cards and letters regularly that helped her know she wasn’t forgotten.
She stayed active. But then one night she broke her hip and had to undergo surgery.
After rehab Sheffield returned to her assisted living apartment at the Oaks on Parkwood, but a year later she fell again and broke the other hip.
Brooks said she and her sister have been very hands-on in their parents’ care through the aging process — they wanted to honor and care for them in the best way possible.
“I believe they thrived as long as they did because of family involvement,” Brooks said.
But what that looks like has changed over the years, she said. “Mother is 100 now and we knew she needed some extra help.”
They could tell she was starting to decline and began to look into their options for the best type of end-of-life care for their mother.
“We considered bringing her home to live with one of us, but our homes aren’t wheelchair accessible,” Brooks said. “As we asked about whether or not she was eligible for hospice we found out that there were several different aspects of end-of-life care available.”
In the end they decided what was best for Sheffield was to be in skilled nursing care at the Oaks.
The facility offered familiar surroundings and faces and Sheffield receives the care she needs provided by a team. Some help with medical treatment others with everyday care like bathing.
And the family also has the option of services like a chaplain to come around and sit and talk with Sheffield regularly.
‘Closer to heaven’
“At 100 years old she’s definitely thrived, but with her health declining, we feel like we’re a little closer to heaven than we were yesterday,” Brooks said.