“Do you have an advance directive?” asked a woman sitting at a table in the cafeteria at Atrium Health Hospital. What’s crazy is I had just posted about death and the importance of preparation a few days before. I must say, being asked about having an advance care directive was one of the best things that happened on April 16th for me. I’m not sure if you noticed that I mentioned the hospital, which is where my grandmother was rushed the night before due to back-to-back seizures. I was doing everything possible to keep calm and not burst into tears, until that question was asked. In that moment, everything else disappeared and I reminded myself of the big picture…
Express Yo’self – Three Wishes
About five weeks prior to my grandma being admitted into the hospital, we had just gotten news that her health was declining. Hospice care was being introduced to the family and she went from walking, to a wheelchair, to a hospital bed in a matter of weeks. This wasn’t the most pleasant experience, but from a positive standpoint my grandmother made her end-of-life wishes very clear to my family a few years ago.
I think she was always prepared for end-of-life and it showed through the random conversations she’d have with my mom, aunts and I. Death isn’t something we avoid in my family, so anytime my grandma had something to say related to it, we’d listen. She wanted to be as independent as possible. She wanted people to see her for the strong woman she was and not treat her any differently should illness occur. She also gave specific instructions about who she did NOT want to use to prepare her body. My grandma also expressed how she did not want a long funeral service, you know like how Aretha Franklin’s funeral lasted a whole eight hours? Yeah, like that! Her funeral was 45 minutes at the most. Sweet and to the point! Lastly, she wanted us to move on with our lives, which is where we are now. Getting used to the new normal of her no longer being around, no longer hearing her laugh, and no longer seeing her heavenly smile.
My grandmother’s death definitely made me see the importance of being clear about what I want and do not want for my end-of-life wishes. I am currently in the process of writing a letter for my family and friends about my wishes. I’m a lover of humor and I do well with keeping things light, so I think the letter will be informative and entertaining all in one. You may say this sounds morbid, especially if I’m not dealing with an illness or anything, but the best time to make your wishes is when you’re in good health! That’s what my grandma did and she left a great example to follow.
Break the Ice
Society has groomed us to see aging as a sign of death/the end, but what about the mortality rate for babies, children, teens and young adults? From school shootings, to illnesses and homicides, death is definitely not thinking about a person’s age. When we look through the lens of ageism, we are denying ourselves the opportunity to having an outline that will help us and our loved ones.
It can be awkward having a conversation about the end-of-life with someone, but you have to break the ice. It’s like when you go on a first date and you’re hesitant of what to talk about (that could just be me), it’s difficult in the beginning until the ice is broken with a joke, a random story, or the basic questions “so what do you like to do for fun?”. The same goes for initiating a conversation about death.
My grandmother’s wishes weren’t in depth, but they were clear. As I reflect on the entire process, everything makes sense for why sharing our wishes is important. You don’t necessarily have to write a four-page letter and seal it with a kiss, just talk. My grandmother’s love for us was shown in how she took the time to make her requests known. What I want you take away from all of this is the big picture. It’s more than an uncomfortable conversation with a loved one, or making yourself decide what your wishes are. The big picture involves research, talking, and planning to ensure we have the necessary things in place for when our time to use them comes. A burden that our loved ones will not have to worry about. So, how’s your big picture looking?
“Stay ready and you’ll never have to get ready.”
Rest in peace, Evelyn Julia Davis
Christina Peoples is passionate about older adults and desires to educate people about the world of Gerontology. She holds a Master of Science degree in Gerontology with a concentration in aging and business, which was obtained from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. However, her introduction into this field began at the Historically Black College/University, Winston-Salem State University. Learn more about her and check out her blog, Gero-What?!, here.
Awesome post! My condolences again to you for your loss. I love the fact that your grandmother as well as everyone in your family were open to speaking about end of life care and wishes. I’m not one that really likes to speak about death and definitely not preparations for it when the loved one is still here on earth. However, this post has given me a different perspective. You made a good pointabout ageism and death because death does not look at numbers. Thanks again for such an awesome post!
Beautiful post and tribute to a beautiful woman!!
Awesome post Christy! Mom was so smart, perceptive and loving of her family. Finding her notes of her wishes, talking to her friends who solidified those wishes and knowing she didn’t want a life of being a prisoner to a body that had grown weak and no longer allowed her the quality of life she once had, became very apparent over the last few months. Even though it was hard to let go and the desire to keep trying to sustain her body was evident with our caregiving, we had to let her continue on her journey to a place where she could be free, her heavenly home.
You are wise beyond your years!! Good advice, will follow thru.
Christina, thank you for sharing and keeping it REAL!! Grandma definitely lived her best LIFE, she knew wouldn’t live forever and definitely planned how she wanted her funeral to take place. She’s definitely a true matriarch and realist!!
Very good article Christina. I too will be informing my family. Puts a new perspective on things to talk about. Keep up the good work.
My condolences to your family. Your grandmother was intentional about taking care if you, while helping you to take care of her. This is such an important message for all of us no matter the age. I teach a course in Grief and Loss and instructed the class to do an assignment called Five Wishes. Everyone had to have a conversation with a family member about last wishes. Although the students struggled with this assignment they each came to realize the importance of having the difficult conversation. They each came away with an advance directive they wanted and helped a family member to express their wishes. Kudos on your passion in working for our elders, but this is significant across the lifespan.
Do you remember we had to complete our living will and obituary for a class assignment? And get it notarized ? I immediately thought of that experience while reading this, but we grasped the concepts and severity of making plans/wishes known. Idk how to muster up the strength to approach this topic with loved ones, but you are absolutely right. It has to be had. Beautiful post! Sending hugs and prayers. Your grandma was a beautiful lady!