Just the thought of it scared me, but the challenge was coming and I needed to prepare. So first I thought about it. Then I worried about it. And finally, yesterday I did what needed to be done.
Oscar and I had chosen a date, written it on the calendar and thought about getting ready. It was hard and it frightened me, but we began.
He will be having knee replacement surgery in the middle of this month, and that’s when I will become “first-responder” for many things I’ve never done before. Every family has its organizational structure. From the beginning jobs are designated and someone agrees to assume responsibility for paying the bills, planning the trips, taking care of the laundry, cooking the meals, handling insurance, tracking and ordering medications ... ad infinitum. And when that long-standing structure needs to be modified, preparation – and a plan – is required.
So we sat down to get ourselves ready. But along with a recognition of the household duties that might need to be transferred between us, it occurred to both of us that given a health difficulty, something more was required. Each of us needed to collect and organize what might be needed should the situation threaten our survival.
It was hard to face this possibility but we dug into it. We each made copies of our will, durable power of attorney, designation of a health-care surrogate, living will and burial plans, then put all the copies in a notebook. We included information about bills to be paid annually, semi-annually, quarterly and monthly, as well as expenses per month and year. We made copies of the title to our house and insurance policy. We’re going to add credit card information, our most recent income tax return, plus life, health, auto and property insurance. And finally we included copies of our birth certificates and Social Security cards.
What surprised me the most were the feelings I had while doing this work. I was frightened by the thoughts of possibly either of us not surviving a health emergency. I felt the challenge of finding all the critical papers and of understanding what was in them. I braced for having to go over the location of the safe deposit box containing all of this information with our daughter, who lives nearby.
But when it was all complete, I felt unexpectedly satisfied, prepared, calmer and more ready to deal with any decisions that might need to be made. I felt stronger than I had expected. And as Oscar and I talked about the work we had just done, it was obvious that he felt as I did.
We are no longer lost in possibilities. We have a plan and a path to follow to deal with potentially unknown consequences. And we hope that sharing the location of this information with our children will give them a path to follow when we are no longer here.
My parents gave me this same gift as they neared the end of their lives, and it allowed me to help them when they needed me. This life preparation is a hard thing to do, but it feels good to be ready for whatever comes. And it’s a very strong reminder to live in and enjoy the moment.
Freelance writer Judy Kramer can be reached by email at [email protected] She is author of “Changing Places: A Journey with My Parents into Their Old Age.”