Will you know when  it’s time to plan?

Planning for the inevitable is necessary- even for those of us who are invincible. Lack of planning has implications extending way beyond wondering what kind of casket mom would have wanted.

Over at the National Death with Dignity Center,  Nora Miller wrote a piece about how suddenly and quickly dementia can enter and change one’s life. Miller writes,

…there’s a whole separate set of decisions that must be made long before we develop the terminal illness that eventually requires end-of-life thinking. In some ways, these may seem even harder than some of the end-of-life decisions, since the subject of the decision is still present and may not consider it necessary for anyone else to decide for them.


Beyond immediate measures to ensure the safety of the person with dementia, there are concerns about how to determine when someone is unable to live on their own, how to pay for additional care, how to address  these life changes with  someone who is already frightened… and quite often the children who are suddenly making these decisions for their parents, are doing so without the counsel of their must trusted advisor- the person suffering.

Miller had the very sound idea of including a letter written to herself among her other end of life plans, to be used if she ever suffered from an illness or accident which impaired her mental abilities.

“Dear Me, no matter how much you think you are okay right now and all those around you are not seeing things as clearly as you do, trust me when I say on this day in your past, you agreed if your son ever came to you with these concerns, you would accept his judgment, because you know he only acts out of love and you trust him to have the ability and integrity to know when the time has come to make these decisions for you.”


Of course, planning for the mental decline of our loved ones or ourselves is not happy work. It is normal to resist thinking about it, because illness and death are scary things.

The problem is, not all of us get that red flag or wake up call that warns us that the time to plan is now. Sometimes a stroke hits with no warning. Sometimes an illness is quite advanced before symptoms arise. Sometimes a phone call changes everything.

The time to have this conversation is NOW. Right now, when there is no crisis, there is no deadline or test result looming. When everyone is relaxed and life is relatively normal- that is the time to have the hard conversations. Share a bottle of wine after dinner at home or treat yourselves to a fantastic meal out, and talk. Share your wishes, your hopes, and your fears about your end of life, funeral and estate. Explain your point of view, ask and answer questions and laugh…until everyone is on the same page.  Then, when that red flag moment occurs, everyone’s focus can be where it needs to be, and not wondering about what one’s wishes would have been.