Planning for death: The 5 most important decisions and why not to put them off
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Death Dula Raylene Driver Hill of Greensboro, North Carolina wears one of her collection of matching t-shirts.
Look: people are afraid to talk about death. "They push it away," said death doula Raylene Driver Hill of Greensboro, North Carolina. They think, "If you talk about death, you will die."
But the truth is we're all going to die. "And we don't know how or when it's going to come," Hill said.
Death doulas help people figure out their last days. And they prefer to make those plans many, many years in advance, before the crisis.
Tonya Fortune Smith, a death doula in Charlotte, North Carolina, wrote her own end-of-life plan and selected a health care officer. "But I'm going to be 100! Just because you have all these documents doesn't mean you're going to die tomorrow," she said.
One way of capturing these thoughts is offered by the guidebook “Five Wishes” at the end of life. More than 41 million copies have been distributed, said Five Wishes President Joanne Eason. If you use the official form—it costs $5, but doctors and elder services can have free copies—it's legal.
More: What is a death doula? Growing profession brings peace, plans at the end of life
We adapted these questions from Five Wishes. This holiday season, consider starting to work through your five wishes with loved ones.
Eason suggests starting with the third question, reminding us that you don't have to fill it all in at once.
If you can no longer make your own health care and medical decisions, who do you want to make them from?
Which medical treatments would you like to have in your final days and which ones not? What if you are expected to die very soon; being in a coma and unlikely to wake up; or have permanent, severe brain damage with no prospect of recovery? Are there other situations where you do not want medical life support?
How would you like to be treated physically in your final days? Do you want painkillers even if it makes you sleepy? Do you want to be bathed? Did you brush your teeth?
Think about the best possible setting for your final days. do you want to die at home Would you like members of your faith community to pray with you, play a specific type of music?
How would you like to be treated after death? For example, would you like to be buried, cremated or some other option - and where? Would you like to donate your organs? Would you like a funeral and if so what would you like to include?
Don't be afraid to write down what you really want, no matter how unusual it may seem to others. Finally, National End-of-Life Doula Alliance President Ashley Johnson said, "You only die once."
Extra Credit: If you have one of these gambling families, there are several card games designed to stimulate conversations about death. These include The Death Deck, Hello and Morbid Curiosity.
Correction: A previous version of this story said that Five Wishes was used by more than 45 million people.
Danielle Dreilinger is an American Southern reporter and author of The Secret History of Home Economics. You can reach her at email@example.com or 919/236-3141.
The Death Deck in Death Doula Tonya Fortune Smith's office.
This article originally appeared on The American South: Five Wishes: How to Plan for Death and Why Do It Now
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