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Life After Paralysis is a blog that represents a variety of paralysis community members. It is a place for open conversation about the issues and the interests of people living with paralysis, their family, friends, caregivers, and the professionals that serve them. Comments are welcome!
 
The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

Going Out In Style

There are things that we do in life, unpleasant things, that are really important and must be done whether we like it or not: such as paying taxes. For me, visiting the dentist has always been like that. My aversion to hypodermic needles, a leftover emotion from early traumatic experiences while getting my tonsils forcibly removed at age 3, made it likely that I would pass out if anything long, shiny and sharp passed in front of my eyes on the way to my mouth. Our family dentist had a solution for that: "don't give the kid any novocaine before drilling."

Thus was hatched my aversion to dentistry. My solution to avoiding the dentist was simply that. I procrastinated for many years of my life when I didn't have dental insurance and paid dearly for it later with a mouthful of silver fillings and some expensive gold crowns. The damage that was done earlier still requires additional repairs periodically, but I have learned to accept my fate and have twice-yearly cleanings and checkups by my dentist.
 
Procrastination is not good, but it seems to be the preferred course of "inaction" for many of us when it comes to other necessary things we should be doing. One of those important duties should be planning for what will happen to us as we age and, dare I say it, die. It is a fate that awaits all of us, no matter how much we would like to avoid it, so it is best to deal with it on our own terms.
 
In the past two years I have lost some relatives and friends who left us before their time, which in reality can be at any time. Hopefully they had all of their loose ends tied in a knot so that surviving family members were not left to try to guess what their dying wishes were, or how to achieve those wishes.
 
Waiting until the last minute to figure all of that out may not be possible, as I know from personal experience. My own father had Dementia to the extent that he could not carry on meaningful conversations with relatives during the last couple of years of his life. As the end approached he was in an intensive care unit and not alert enough to say goodbye to us. He had no living will, so making end of life choices fell to those who were least likely to want the end to occur: his surviving children.
 
Looking ahead at my own life, I know that I do not want my daughters to be put into that same situation. I prepared a will many years ago, which does the right thing by splitting up my assets equally between them. However, I always warn them that if either daughter treats me badly I will change the will to be sure that that person gets to be the beneficiary of all of my worthless collectables and pottery. That threat seems to be working, as they each treat me well.
 
My will also states how my body is to be disposed of after probing it for research and donating any organs that I have not used up by that time. An important part of the will lets them know how to dispose of my ashes, which I wish to have split into two very gaudy vases which will reside on top of their television sets. They are welcome to use some of my pottery collection as ash receptacles, so they will be sure to remember me fondly as they watch my favorite reality TV shows.
 
My power of attorney is held by a trusted relative, who I can depend on to take care of my legal affairs and continue necessary payments at any time I am incapacitated. That person will also be the executor of my aforementioned will, and knows where to find all of my financial assets, insurance policies, important documents and computer passwords.
 
Another important document with a similar sounding name is my Living Will. This may also be called an Advance Directive, Medical Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy as it allows my designee to make important decisions for me in the event that I am unable to do so. You might have been asked to complete one when you were admitted to the hospital or had surgery that involved anesthesia, as it takes some very important decisions out of the hands of the doctors and avoids legal issues in the future.
 
Forms for preparing all of the legal documents mentioned above are available free through various Internet websites. It is not necessary to hire a lawyer, as long as you have someone who can serve as a witness when you sign the documents.
 
How does this apply to people who don't have any financial assets, or even significant personal belongings like a house or car? Some people may not even have a close relative to inherit anything, so what difference does it make? A will doesn't have to include any items of significant value, as it may simply detail how best to dispose of whatever resources are present at the time of death. Otherwise, without evidence of a living relative or will, the state government will gladly assume control of whatever items we leave behind. That can be avoided, even without heirs.
 
It is likely that you have a favorite charitable organization, whether it is one that has helped you out in the past or just a cause you believe in. Even such fairly simple items as a manual wheelchair that needs some repair or a couple of boxes of leftover medical supplies would be greatly appreciated if a charitable organization delivered them to people with disabilities in a developing country who subsist with far less than what we take for granted. Putting that organization in your will as a beneficiary will result in you being remembered as a benefactor.
 
Now THAT would be "going out" in style.

© 2014 Michael Collins | Like Mike on Facebook
Posted by Michael Collins on Apr 13, 2014 4:58 PM US/Eastern

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