The choice is ours
Generally, whatever the situation, we like knowing we have choices in life. Being boxed in, having no alternative, being forced into a decision doesn’t feel good. We want to be in control.
That applies to nearly every aspect of life — what to eat, what to wear, what to spend our time on — at every stage of life, from the terrible twos, into adolescence, and throughout adulthood.
But what about deciding how we want to be treated in a situation where we have become seriously ill or injured and can’t express ourselves? For some reason, many of us recoil from exercising our choices there.
I’m not talking about the choice to end one’s life early. That’s for a different column, perhaps.
Now I simply mean the choices we might make about what degree of medical care we would want in an emergency or life-threatening situation if we aren’t in a position to communicate our opinions at the time. Or about who we would want to handle our finances if we temporarily couldn’t or were no longer able to.
The good news is, there are many ways we can let our families, doctors and lawyers know what our choices would be in these situations. That’s what advance directives and powers of attorney are for.
Did I see you flinch? Are you folding up the Beacon and leaving it on the chair?
So many of us either glaze over or clam up whenever someone asks us about making these kinds of choices.
I don’t think it’s because we don’t have a preference. On the contrary, I think it’s because the potential situations are so troubling, and the choices to be made are so significant and fraught, that we are afraid to even face the possibility they might someday occur and that others would need our guidance.
Let me make a suggestion: Take a look at the website fivewishes.org and its Five Wishes document. Five Wishes is an advance directive in simple language that you can customize to answer questions like: Who do I want to make care decisions for me when I can’t? What kind of medical treatment do I want? What do I want my loved ones to know?
The document lets you name the person you would like to represent you, and lays out numerous actions you might want your agent to take on your behalf. You can cross out whatever you don’t want that person to do and add in whatever requests you don’t see there.
Five Wishes costs $5, and is legally effective in most states (without any attorney fees). You can fill it out, have your signature witnessed by two others, then print and share it with family members and professionals. Presto, a valid advance directive.
It even describes how to revoke it and issue a new one at any time, should your choices change.
In Montgomery County, an educational program called Voice Your Choice is currently offering free webinars to answer questions about advance directives. The website, voiceyourchoice.org, also allows you to upload an existing directive to a secure website, or will walk you through filling one out online.
Perhaps many of those who refrain from expressing their choices are telling themselves, “Well, if I can’t make my own decisions at that time, what difference would it make if someone else decided for me?”
Keep in mind it’s possible that you may very well wake up and find the decisions others made have changed your life in ways you now don’t like.
Above all, an advance directive or power of attorney can smooth a difficult path for your loved ones.
(Note: Those who are already seriously ill or frail and wish to prevent resuscitation or emergency medical care will need another document — a POLST or, in Maryland, MOLST — prepared by a physician, PA or nurse practitioner.)
These aren’t easy things to think about, I grant you. But look around: We are all more attuned to the possibility of sudden illness since COVID-19 showed up.
In many ways, the pandemic stole some of our choices. Early lockdowns and emergency orders took a number of options off the table for all of us. Even now, we find many choices we might normally make are constrained by our safety concerns or those of others.
Though this loss of choice may feel constricting, many of us have seen some silver linings in the forced retreat to home and family. In addition to staying safe, we are often bonding with loved ones, developing skills with the latest technology, and learning to communicate in new ways.
Maybe another silver lining is that the coronavirus may lead more of us to exercise our powers of choice in the areas where we still can. One of those is to choose to “get our affairs in order.”
Coming November 1
As you may have noticed from our ads in recent issues, this fall’s Beacon 50+Expo will be a virtual event for the first time in 21 years.
We are very excited about the opportunities this gives us to provide many more speakers, classes, exercise demonstrations and entertainers than ever before.
And because there will be, literally, days’ worth of interesting programs to watch, our Virtual Expo will be available to you, free of charge, from November 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021. (And we’ll be holding weekly door prize drawings throughout that period.)
If you’d like to register in advance for the event, please fill out the form found at: bit.ly/beacon50expo. And come November 1, please visit www.beacon50expo.com and pass this on to your friends!