Eggy miracles. Or: Three things to consider near the end of life

By Eggy Miracles, I mean: Keep on living! Scroll down for more on this.

Here’s my top three things for individuals and families to consider doing when someone is near the end of life.

  1. Keep on living. If you don’t like Eggy Miracles, this can mean whatever else you do like doing!
  2. Get the super-important-practical things done in plenty of time
  3. Talk, talk, talk

In more detail:

1. Keeping on living. For me, this included Eggy Miracles.

With all the worrying, and hospital appointments, and medication, and all that stuff, it’s easy to forget about living.  I’m not talking here about bucket list plans to go bungee jumping in New Zealand. In my experience, these glamorous ideas are not priorities for people who really are near the end of life.

Look at the last wishes that the Dutch Ambulance Wish Foundation help fulfil. Most of the wishes are simple: to see the sea, or spend an hour back at home. 

Or here’s the Little tale of Painting Nails  

My dad was super-expert at living, even as his doctors told him he was getting close to dying.

He couldn’t cook, but loved – and was great at – breakfast eggs. His breakfast-preparation was our special times. I used to stand beside him and see him poaching eggs. I couldn’t cook these and he knew I couldn’t. When he could and did poach eggs, he was still the all-powerful father of my childhood. He liked being a man who could achieve eggy miracles on a daily basis; rather than someone whose previously-infinite dynamism was slowly fading, even if we were all pretending this wasn’t so.

Initially, when he was cooking his breakfasts, I started serious conversations about how much I loved him and was going to miss him after his death. But we never spent too time much on that, as neither of us wanted the eggs to spoil. I switched to just watching his Eggy Miracles. Just being with him.

2. All those might-seem-boring-but-are-really-important-practical things: a Will, Lasting Power of Attorney, tidying financial affairs up

Don’t just think about these. Get them done!

My dad died a pauper – having handed all his money to my mum, and tidied all his financial affairs up so that she wouldn’t have to do that after he died. He forgot just one small thing. I sometimes wonder if he did that on purpose – sorting it out took months and months and lots of my mum’s energy. Imagine how much worse it would have been if she’d had to do it all!

Actually, I don’t have to imagine. I know someone who died with several sets of wives and children, money in four countries — and no will. What a nightmare!

There’s more info on Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA) here.  

Anyone diagnosed with dementia needs a will, and a Lasting Power of Attorney not only for health affairs, but also for money. Click here for info from the Alzheimers Society.

You don’t have to be terminally ill to think about this stuff. Anyone with children needs a will, with at least a financial Lasting Power of Attorney. Otherwise, if both parents are, God forbid, killed in a terrible accident, it can be difficult for the children to even access their parents money.

It may seem horrible to think about this – but in the same way as thinking about it doesnt make it happen, not thinking about it doesn’t stop it happening! 

3. Talk, talk, talk.

I don’t mean deciding what’s going to happen at the funeral – though that can be important. Getting the last days and the actual dying as good as possible is much harder, and even more vital. You might not get all the talking done with just one conversation. Start somewhere bite-size. Ask:

What does a good day look like?

A geriatrician told me how one of her patients has TV sports on the top of their ‘good day’ list.

I’m my mum’s LPA. We’ve talked about all this stuff. She’s very active and she’s told me before how important it is for her to be mobile – not in a wheelchair. But I was surprised at what she said when I asked her the ‘good day’ question. Her reply: Family, Family, Family. So now I know that.

Atul Gawande speaks movingly here that it’s not about do we fight, or do we give up? “It’s what are we fighting for? People have priorities besides just surviving no matter what. You have reasons you want to be alive. What are those reasons? Because whatever you’re living for, along the way, we’ve got to make sure we don’t sacrifice it; and in fact, can we, along the way, whatever’s happening, can we enable it?”

Dying Matters has some great resources to help with starting Conversations here.

Compassion in Dying have info on LPAs and Advance Decisions / Living Wills. They also have a free End of Life Rights information line 10-4 Monday to Friday on 0800 999 2434

 

More:

My forthcoming book, Deathbed Skiing, is about how I, as a doctor and a daughter, changed my mind about death. And how you – and my other readers – may want to change your mind too.

Deathbed Skiing is aimed especially at family members of individuals who have a life limiting illness, or who are terminally ill. It’s not a ‘how to’ book. I think death and dying are too personal, too complex, and too keeping-on-changing for that.

But my book does include some suggestions for things families may want to consider doing – and avoiding. You’ve just seen my positive suggestions above. My ideas for the top 3 things you might want to consider avoiding are here. 

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