The Topic No One Wants to Discuss: Death

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Written by Jennifer Martin Hussey

Among the list of things we do while quarantined, we need to add end of life decision-making. What do you want? (Assuming you get to choose.)

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If you have kids- where do they go if you’re sick?
What about if you die?
Do you have a spouse? What if they die?
What about an ex-spouse?

How about the plans you made for little kids that may need to be dramatically altered for teens. What about if your kid is technically an adult?

Maybe you always assumed you’d send your kid(s) to a sibling, but is that fair to do to a near adult? Does it matter? What if your plan was to send them to a grandparent? Are those grandparents able to do this? What if they say they are but you’re sure they’re not. Or what if they don’t want to for other reasons?
What about stuff? House, things, cars? Who takes care of stuff if your kids are too young?

Who will pay your bills? If you share resources- are you comfortable with paying bills if the other person can’t? Do you even know what bills you have? How they’re paid?

Do you know where any documentation may be? Online banking information? Any wills, legal documents, life insurance, retirement plans and any online information for those things?

What about pets? Who will take your pet?

Then think about actual medical care. I can assure you that your average doctor is not trained to have end of life discussions as a rule. Know how to talk about it with your medical team. It’s your responsibility to speak up.

Have you thought about the if/then questions? If you have a disease that forces choices like comfort for 6 months vs. pain for 12 months? What if it was comfort for 6 months vs. pain but you get two years?

Do you know how awesome hospice services are? Learn.

How invasive are you willing to go today as a healthy person? Do you truly understand what those options mean? Every state has different rules- what are the rules in YOUR state (or country). Some states will not allow processes to stop once they’re started. Is that OK with you?

What about underlying disease processes? What if you have a heart problem? A lung disease? Does that move the needle for you?

Do you have a medical power of attorney? A legal power of attorney? A will? Does your spouse? Your parents?

Have you spoken with people about what to do if something happens and you don’t have anyone local to help? Do you have neighbors who can feed your cat or take in mail (or your kid) while your designated people come in? What if (like now) there’s travel restrictions?

What if you do die- what do you want to happen? Assuming people can gather- what do you want?

There are hundreds of other things to think about and you’ll never be able to map it all but it needs to become a normalized part of our conversation because the worst thing would be to not know what to do in a crisis situation.

Dr. Rohr-Allegrini is an epidemiologist and tropical disease scientist currently working to prevent diseases through immunizations.

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