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Thinking About the End

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(… of life. I’m full of good cheer today!)
Recently, my husband and I opened up a pension plan for me, planning for our (eventual) retirement. It’s strange, when we’re smack in the middle of the do your homework/pick up the darn Legos/what smells in your backpack? stage of life, to be planning for a time when the kids will be grown up, out of the house (they will be, right? Right??) and it’ll just be the two of us, staring at each other and … doing whatever it is retired people do. Travel? Board games? Visit the grandkids? Take a nap, I’m hoping.
But of course, you can’t expect to just stop working one day if you haven’t planned ahead for it. You don’t want to reach retirement age and find out you’ve got no money to do, well, anything. (Though a nap is free.) Like vacation. If you get to the hotel and haven’t made a reservation or packed a suitcase, it’s not going to be very relaxing or enjoyable.
So every once in a while the powers that be at Jewish Values Online send me interesting articles for blog topics. (Don’t worry, this will all connect in a minute) This week, Rabbi Joe Blair sent me a link to a New York Times article called “On Dying After Your Time.” Written by an 83-year-old, the author discusses how modern medicine has increased both our longevity and our dependence on modern medicine. With longer lives come more, and more complex, health issues, and the medical community spends a good deal of its time and resources on the aging population. The author states, “Just 10 percent of the population — mainly the elderly — consumes about 80 percent of health care expenditures, primarily on expensive chronic illnesses and end-of-life costs.” He concludes that the benefits of this longer life are not necessarily worth the trouble.
Whether or not you agree, whether you believe in “pull the plug” or “try that new treatment,” end-of-life decisions require forethought and preparation. They have a lot in common with retirement, and yes, vacation. (OK, maybe my analogies need a little work). You have to put in the planning ahead of time to ensure they are smooth and that you get what you want out of them.
(FYI: I am just going to go ahead and add a blanket “God forbid” or “chas v’shalom” to everything I’m about to say, regarding death, dying, dying young, etc.)
We need to plan for our inevitable deaths. Hopefully, that will happen peacefully, at a ripe old age, but (God forbid, et al.) it could come sooner. Wills, living wills and advanced directives are in the same uncomfortable category as a prenuptial agreement: “Important but I’d really rather not think about it.” However, these legal documents can help ease end-of-life care by spelling out exactly what you want. An advanced directive includes your decisions about your care and grants medical power-of-attorney to a person of your choosing, in case you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself. It ensures that you receive the type of care you want and also – this is key – removes some of the decision-making burden from your loved ones.
In addition to end-of-life scenarios, we also need to plan for the God-forbid circumstance. We all are familiar with, unfortunately, those who were taken too young, leaving behind spouses and children. We need to make sure our families are taken care of in the event that we’re not here to do it.
So I am taking this opportunity to make a public service announcement to get your affairs in order. Make sure you have life insurance, a will and living will/advanced directive (this article helps explain the differences). Make sure there are arrangements for your spouse and children, including who gets custody of your children in the event of both parents passing away. If you haven’t taken care of these “uncomfortable but important” legal documents yet, put it on your to-do list. Get it filled out, signed, notarized, sealed with wax, pinkie sweared—whatever you need to do to make sure it’s done and legal.
Then, put it away, and God willing, no one will need to see it for a very, very long time.
You may now go back to enjoying your week!

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