Time seemed to pass erratically as Ed sat next to the hospital bed. Minutes seemed to take hours, and at times hours flew by in what seemed like seconds. Friends and family would stop in, but mostly Ed was alone, looking into the face of his wife and remembering decades of happiness, challenges, family and their life — well lived.
He wished he was the one lying in the bed — silent and hopefully not suffering. When he was not reminiscing or asking God to please take him and not her, Ed would regret never having the conversation with her about this time in their lives. A time that may come to many of us, when a beloved partner will need to make health care decisions on our behalf.
Ed wished he had made the effort to understand what Sara would want so he could make her comfortable and, maybe as important, feel confident and at peace with the decisions he was making.
Ed and Sara had been married for more than 60 years. The legal and financial aspects of their estate planning were adequately addressed, but Ed did not know what Sara would want done at this point. Would she want surgery, more tests? When Sara would begin to "come to," there was pain and Ed would ask that she be given medication — only to lose her again to the haze of morphine.
The doctors spoke with Ed about "discharge planning" and Ed was fearful.
Ed thought if he were lying in that bed without hope of recovering to a point of enjoying life and family that he would want a comfortable death, perhaps aided by the physician. But in California, physician-aided suicide is not legal. Could the "discharge" include moving the patient to a state where physicians could help bring about a comfortable death?
Five Wishes is a short form published by Aging with Dignity that substantially meets the requirements of 42 states and the District of Columbia with regard to health care wishes. This document would have told Ed if Sara wanted to be kept alive and under what circumstances.
It would tell him how she felt about pain: Did she want the drugs that, while they took away the pain, also took away communication? The document also provides an opportunity to express personal, spiritual and emotional wishes, such as telling others that you have forgiven them for hurt they may have caused you or asking them to forgive you. The Five Wishes form can make clear your desires for after death, including organ donation and funeral services.
Sara never left the hospital and passed quietly while Ed slept in the chair next to her bed. Many of the decisions that Ed feared most about making thankfully never needed to be made.
For the loved ones in your life, get a Five Wishes form and complete it — 888-594-7437 or www.agingwithdignity.org. It will bring peace to all.
Liza Horvath has over 30 years' experience in the estate planning and trust fields and is the president of Monterey Trust Management, a financial and trust management company. This is not intended to be legal or tax advice. Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 646-5262.