A woman in my congregation died recently, leaving her husband behind.
Before she died, church leaders asked me to check on the couple, who were in their 80s. We had heard that the wife wasn’t eating, which was worrisome.
During the visit, I ended up calling the paramedics. The doctors discovered that the woman had cancer, which was why she wasn’t eating.
In the hospital, her heart stopped.
The doctors were able to keep her alive, but she wasn’t conscious. And now, her husband had some difficult decisions to make.
The doctors wanted to know:
- How long would his wife want machines to keep her alive?
- Would he authorize a necessary blood transfusion for her?
Beyond that, there was the question about what to do if her heart stopped again. The woman hadn’t eaten in seven days. She was fragile, and her chest was bruised from the last round of CPR.
Would it be kind to resuscitate her again, if it came to that?
The poor husband was at a loss. He was so distraught that he told the doctors he wanted his pastors to make the decisions.
They very gently told him that they could provide guidance but couldn’t be the final say for his wife.
Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of the difficult decisions for the new widower. The wife had been the one to pay the bills and handle the household finances.
Other church leaders began helping the man navigate through paperwork and a long list of unanswered questions. He could have benefited from an Estate in One Place account, had his wife known to set one up with all the details of finances and important information.
A few days later, the gentleman stopped at the church to see the pastor. Unexpectedly, they ended up rushing him to the ER for a blood clot in his leg.
In the hospital, the pastors helped him sign the power of attorney paperwork so that someone could make decisions on his behalf, now that his wife wasn’t there to do it.
Life happens fast. Sometimes out of nowhere.
Planning for the unknown
Even when death happens at “old age,” it can still feel sudden. This couple was in their 80s. They had lived a long life together.
And still, they had not planned for death to hit so soon.
Conversations about the end of life can be difficult. While my family never expected my sister’s illness to be terminal, it still prompted us to openly discuss these issues.
Before she started her medically-induced coma, she called me. We talked about the decision she had to make.
We didn’t know what was going to happen. However, she decided that it was her best decision in her fragile state.
The moment she passed, 14 days later, we knew she wanted to be cremated.
There is peace that comes with knowing that you made the decision your loved one wanted, even in the pain of the loss;.
No matter what decision is made, people will judge you for it. If you’re confident that final decisions were made in line with their wishes, you can let critiques go in one ear and out the other.
Navigating tough questions
With so many medical advances at their disposal, doctors are able to keep people alive. They have machines that will breathe for you and machines that will keep your heart beating and the blood pumping through your body.
So, the question is: How do you want the end of your life to go?
Personally, I do not want to be resuscitated. I tell people all the time: If I fall over right now, do NOT bring me back. I’m going to be mad at someone. I’m ready to meet my Maker.
I would encourage others to be similarly open about end-of-life questions.
Here are just a few to get you started:
- Do you want to be resuscitated? What time of life-saving measures are comfortable with?
- If you’re terminally ill, does that change how you feel about being resuscitated?
- If you’re dependent on machines to breathe and keep your heart pumping, how long do you want your life extended?
- If you’re in a coma without brain activity or a “vegetative state,” how long do you want to be on life-sustaining measures?
Once you’ve determined your wishes, make sure to communicate them to your loved ones.
In my next blog, I’ll talk about documentation you should have in place to make sure your wishes have legal backing as well.
None of us are around forever. Preparing for tragedies can give your loved ones a measure of peace, despite your absence.