From The Arabian Nights by Maxfield Parrish
(This post is the fifth in a series on advance directives. The last post was Part IV: Advance Directives: Will They Be There When We Need ‘Em?)
February is here! After eleven years of procrastination, our self-declared Advance Directives Month has arrived and the hubster and I are finally tackling the forms. It’s going a lot better than we expected. A LOT. Like finally-easing-that-horrible-fear better. Here are a few things we’ve learned so far.
1) NOT ALL FORMS ARE CREATED EQUAL.
In an earlier post I mentioned that I was planning to use our state advance directive forms. But after downloading and looking them over I changed my mind because, unfortunately, they made me feel even more confused, uneasy, and out of control about the future than I already did. I realized a big part of my procrastination was because I’m afraid of signing something legal that I don’t fully understand, and with the state forms? That’s pretty much guaranteed.
I needed a form that would not only list the basic legal choices but actually explain them. I wanted some context.
In Part III: Advance Directives: Forms and Where To Find Them I researched a variety of other options, and there were two I ultimately considered as alternatives. The first was the Lifecare Advance Health Care Directive and the second was MyDirectives.com because they both offered the strong educational/support element I was looking for. We eventually decided to go with Lifecare for a variety of reasons. It was just a better fit for us. However, a person looking for something shorter and simpler might prefer MyDirectives.com. I’d urge everyone to check out all the options before making their own choice.
2) THESE FORMS ARE ULTIMATELY REVEALING OUR MOST FUNDAMENTAL BELIEFS ABOUT THE VALUE OF LIFE.
And I thought they were just about how to die. Silly me.
Far from making us uncomfortable, so far the process of filling out these forms is kind of freeing. It’s easing that vague, horrible dread that tends to linger out around the edges. (Dare I use the word…empowering?) It’s helping us both define the basic, essential, and worthwhile elements of life, the ones that make it worth living for us, and there’s this funny kind of anchoring feeling that happens each time either of us hits one on the head. It’s an aha! Like getting a shot of strength in the arm that instantly settles the butterflies and clears the eyes. And what’s really amazing is how much that sense of anchoring lessons all the other clamoring fears like What if get hooked up anyway? What if I lose my mind and can’t even remember what I want? What if I lose ALL CONTROL!?
That last one is the biggie of course, but it’s extraordinary how just sitting and talking about it together is helping to ease it. Which leads me to the third insight we’ve had so far:
3) IF POSSIBLE, IT’S BETTER TO TACKLE THESE FORMS TOGETHER.
I’ve been saying all along that, no matter how good, complete, and legal the forms are, the chances of them doing much good without having conversations with the other people involved are a lot smaller.
But now I’m discovering there’s an additional…and even more profound…benefit to the hubster’s and my conversations: They’re improving the quality of our life and relationship right now. I’m not kidding. We’ve been together for twenty-three years and we’re learning things about one another we never knew before. Plus, each of us is coming up with unique questions…and insights…and fears…and strengths…that the other gets to learn from, too. The sense of alliance and trust we already had is getting deeper as we go.
We totally have each other’s backs.
4) IT’S BETTER TO TAKE OUR TIME WITH IT.
Since the Lifecare Advance Health Care Directive is a long form with a lot of supporting information we decided to break it up over a few weeks. We’re giving it the hour on Saturday mornings that we already committed to emergency and long-term planning (a new project that we’ve both resisted but is turning out to be remarkably productive) and we had our first sit down with the form last week. The hubster read from the advance directive while I read from the supplemental Guide (the guide isn’t absolutely necessary but it’s VERY helpful)…and the information is, surprisingly, kind of fascinating.
It covers a lot of history, different legal and medical cases that have shaped thinking over time, medical and legal boundaries that define what we can actually ask for, definitions of what all the different terms mean, and how to bridge the gap between what lay-people tend to want and what medical people can actually do. The overall learning curve is steep but the Lifecare directive is providing a much larger context to help us understand what we’re doing and why, and this leads me to the last important point:
5) WE DIDN’T KNOW JUST HOW MUCH WE DIDN’T KNOW.
Today’s medical technology is complex, changing, overwhelming, and often totally incomprehensible. Even so, the hubster and I HAVE to figure out how to navigate it. (Either that or find a cave somewhere out of ambulance-reach.) I think most of us want the miracles modern medicine has to offer, but we’d just as soon do without the extra burden and responsibility that goes along with having them.
Unfortunately, that’s not possible.
At it’s core, modern medical technology is basically another genie in a bottle and, like any genie worth its salt, the wishes it grants us are subject to all kinds of unforeseen consequences. It’s pretty easy to wind up with a result that doesn’t look anything like what we thought we’d asked for.
The shrewd Bottle-Wishers among us (generally those with a lot of exposure to the system) have seen firsthand how unpredictable wishes can be, so they tend to think theirs through very carefully beforehand. They ask, they learn, they craft, they plan…then they write it down.
Newbie wishers, on the other hand, mistakenly believe the genie will somehow understand what they mean however garbled or incomplete. This, of course, makes them the ones more likely to wind up with something they didn’t bargain for. (Tubes, drool, and paddles, my friends.)
The hubster and I would prefer to sit with the shrewdies, no matter how steep the learning curve.
I didn’t understand when I first started this project how genuinely glad I was going to be that I did. Or how much more I’d wind up getting out of it than I’m putting in. On the one hand, it’s taken a lot more time and energy than I’d anticipated, but it’s already paying off in some handsome and totally unexpected, dividends.
So far, so good.
Next post I’ll start talking specifics about my own choices.
copyright Dia Osborn 2011