Five Wishes and Ethical Wills

fivewishesIn facing the loss of my Mom’s recognition of me, I’m left to wonder how I will manage through the final years of my life. I have felt a weird shift to my psyche now that the woman who I am the adult caregiver for, no longer knows me. She politely accepts my help and quizzically looks at me when I arrive with a case of Coke. I can tell she is wondering how I know she likes Coke when she has no recognition of me. Thankfully, she is gracious when I offer help but finds some of my requests a little too personal and politely rebuffs my suggestion. I am moving into another new phase of this hideous disease and learning to adapt.

I’ve been thinking about one of the gifts my parents gave me when they wrote a personal letter about the end of their life. They did it when they were in their fifties. Today, this falls under the description of an ethical will. There are many varieties and definitions behind this document. I consider what my parents did for me an incredible way to remind me of their values as well as encourage me if something were to happen to them. I was 20 and still in college, but was the last child at home over the summer and under their roof and care. During this time, my parents were traveling the globe. It was part of my father’s job. As the military spouse, my Mom was expected to make the trips with him. My parents wrote up their personal wishes should something happen to them on one of their trips. My Mom would always remind me where the hand-written letter was and that they left a blank signed check in the envelope.  It wasn’t the will or durable power of attorney, but a note that expressed their love and hopes for me.

One summer, my Mom sat me down with the envelope and went over the information with me. She really wanted me to know how to manage should something happen to them while I was still in college.

I’m amazed at how much the school of life has educated me. I watched both my parents deal with a parent who had dementia. I know they never expected that fate would befall them.  When it was time to look at their Durable Power of Attorney and Medical Directives, I realized what a gift those earlier conversations were. These documents don’t really cover the variety of decisions you will face as a caregiver. We have had to make many audible calls in the care of my parents from choosing to forgo chemotherapy to moving my Mom into a new community focused on memory care.

I was lucky to have had so much time with my parents to absorb many of their personal beliefs as an adult. One document that can help provide some guidance to family members for care decisions if you can’t make them yourself is called Five Wishes. It’s written to stand as a legal document, so if you have estate plans in place, please consult with your lawyer. If you don’t, it might be a good place to start. Recommended.