Last year the brother of a friend of mine died suddenly. In his sleep, and for no apparent reason. Under 60. And he did not have a will, nor did my friend have any way of getting any information from his computer or cell phone because they were locked. My friend, while working as a social worker for a school board (read: huge workload, dealing with kids in difficult circumstances) began a bureaucratic nightmare with multiple institutions while also grieving the last member of her family of her generation.
Eleven years ago I went to Ghana, Africa, to volunteer for my friend Peta who was building a vocational training school there. It seemed a slightly daring destination, after all I had to get special vaccinations for exotic diseases such as yellow fever. So I decided to finally write a will and get Power of Attorneys set up for health and property. I felt like a responsible adult, I had completed a task that most of us feel intimidated by, facing our future death or possible incapacitation. Now, I thought, it would be easier to wrap up my affairs if I died, and for my appointed Power of Attorney’s to look after my affairs if necessary, or so I thought. After taking a short workshop last summer I realized that I had only given them half or less than half of the tools they needed to make their jobs easier and more efficient, not to mention how much stress, anxiety and frustration I had unwittingly potentially inflicted on them.
The workshop, given by Bill Bruce at Trinity Annan United Church was deeply enlightening. Now anyone who knows me knows that formal religion is not my bag, but I immediately knew I had to update my will and POA’s, the workshop was spot on. Thank you Bill for your time and information.
I also knew that I would find it difficult to complete this process on my own, I would be more motivated if others were going on the journey with me, so enter Glenda and Mike. They are friends I have made since moving to Owen Sound. We do the same classes at the YMCA (gym). It took us a while to set a date when we could meet as life kept on getting in the way, but we finally did. As a small group we can divide up some of the issues that have popped up in our discussions. How and who can determine incapacity, what are the current rules about MAID. In Canada we have legislation in place that allows us to have medical assistance in dying, MAID. In some ways it is a straight forward process, very well delineated and regulated. Over 10,000 people have taken advantage of it in the first five years it has been legal, 2016 to 2021. There are many lovely stories from the families of those that have chosen that option. The one that stays with me is of an older couple, in their 90’s, married forever. They had multiple health issues that made them both eligible for MAID. They discussed it with their family, and they chose to do it at the same time, surrounded by family, all goodbyes said and love surrounding them. The husband or wife could not bear be the one left behind to grieve. They were holding hands at the end. I digress, but MAID is an option I am glad that I have. So Glenda, Mike and I have our research tasks and we will meet again after my trip to England. I am writing this, at the moment, from the bed at my sisters house in Durham.
One of the first things that hit me as a result of taking the workshop is that if I had a medical emergency at home and dialled 911 and then passed out the paramedics would not easily be able to get information about my health status, such as medical conditions or medications without rummaging about in my home, wasting time. Once at the hospital the staff would not know who to contact or what my wishes were concerning my care should I be unconscious or unable to communicate for any reason. That is important to me as I have definite views about what care I want and maybe more importantly, don’t want. They wouldn’t know what medications I take, by blood type or if I had any major medical conditions. You get the picture. I was happy to discover it is not rocket science to solve these problems.
How about a sheet of paper in an easy to find place with such information on it? Apparently paramedics look for a piece of paper or envelope on the fridge or near a front or back door. Titled IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, ICE. Easy peasy. Mine is now in place.
Now, what about finding me unconscious while walking my dog. Tucker would bark his head off and attract attention, but how would they know who I was. I have learned that cell phones, both iPhones and androids have ways that pertinent information can be accessed from a locked screen. Paramedics and other first responders know that, but from my conversations with others many people do not. On an iPhone it is accessed
and completed on the health app. We did find it on one android quite quickly, so good luck everyone with finding it on yours should you wish to and haven’t already done so.
In the weeks after the workshop it hit me that I had tied the hands of my Power of Attorney for property and health behind their back, so to speak. They needed more information than they presently had access to to act effectively on my behalf. It was a bit of a shock when I thought things through. The POA for property did not know, among a lot of other things:
- My phone or computer password
- Where I banked
- What are my income sources
- What my expenses were and how I pay them, automatically, manually, and do the bills arrive by mail, email.
- My credit card or banking pin numbers
Many of these things we are told to keep secret, but my POA for property would need access to them to keep my financial life ticking along if I had an emergency and could not do it for myself.
My POA for health had a general idea of what my wishes were, but mainly in worst case scenarios. What about the not so worst case scenarios, but ones that would significantly alter my quality of life. We had a breakfast meeting and discussed it. We used forms that the Province of Alberta had produced to provoke exploration of various scenarios. Then we went into the nitty gritty of what I absolutely do want, and maybe more importantly, what I absolutely do not want. Interestingly Alberta seems to be the province that has produced the best information to help explore POA for health issues and Bill gave us the one we used as the basis for the discussion. I will now discuss these wishes with my doctor so that it is in my medical record.
I don’t know quite why I feel so compelled to dive into this topic, and then to share it as a blog. Life is good and life is full. I am happy and feel incredibly lucky to have the life I have. For all the usual reasons, family, friends, a dog, an adequate retirement income, where I live, my ability to travel, and time for doing the things I want to do. Some people say “you will be dead, it won’t be your problem”, but I think that statement partly comes from our fear of the inevitable. It is too scary to think about, and plan for. Maybe I want to control things from beyond the grave or while being incapacitated, but is that a bad thing if it empowers my POA’s and executors to confidently act on my behalf, save them time and the stress of wondering if they are doing the right thing? After all, they are people I love and who love me. I want to make their burden as light as possible.
So I have started out on this journey to try and tie the details of my life up with fancy ribbons, beginning with an IN CASE OF EMERGENCY information sheet. Done and on my fridge, and new POA forms signed.
I feel inspired to write about this process as we go through it, and I have developed some forms, and will do more. Presently I have an ICE form and another for Power of Attorney for property. They are Microsoft Word based and I would be happy to email them to you to customize for your own use.
Thinking about why I want to share this information as a blog, as mentioned above is interesting. I want to do a series of them as I go through this process. There is so much to look at besides the POA’s and ICE forms. How do we choose POA’s and executors. I have already mentioned incapacity and it is a bit of a winding road. Then there is dementia and how if affects the eligibility for MAID. Hopefully that will be sorted out in the next review of the MAID law. Then what about our relationships and our belongings and our legacy. Thinking about all that will help me write a much better will, and on a personal relationship level guide me as to who I may want to bring back into my life. Covid has already brought some very old but distant friends back into my circle, but there is more to think about.
I would really enjoy your thoughts about this blog and its contents, don’t hesitate to contact me. It is a big conversation.
I read a book about a Doctor who changed from delivering babies to delivering MAID: This is Assisted Dying by Stefanie Green which I found was very thoughtful and compassionate.
Others recommended at the end of that book:
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Knocking on Heavens Door by Katie Butler
The Inevitable by Katie Englehart
Physician Assisted Death, What Everyone Needs to Know by Wayne Sumner
Link to Power of Attorney booklet for Ontario: https://www.publications.gov.on.ca/300975
Alberta’s personal directive kit: https://www.alberta.ca/personal-directive.aspx