Let your family and friends know what you want done if you are ill, incapacitated, or facing the end of life. Kristie Miller did just that in the following selection, first published on December 5,2003, and reprinted here by permission.
"Do you have a letter of intent?" my doctor asked during my annual physical exam last spring, after posing her standard questions about using my seat belt and checking my smoke alarm batteries.
Was a letter of intent the same as a living will, I asked, referring to the directive that explains one's wishes for ceasing heroic measures in the case of a persistent vegetative state.
No. A letter of intent is not about ending life, but about what I would want out of life if a stroke or other disability reduced my mobility and perhaps even made it impossible for me to express my wishes.
A wonderful idea, this. At my time of life -- 59 next Tuesday -- I have a number of elderly friends and relations whose wishes I try to intuit, with who knows how much success.
A letter of intent, therefore, would seem to promise comfort not only to me, but also to my children or other caregivers.
Nevertheless, I've put it off. I've been busy, sure, but it's also the sort of thing it's hard to think about when one is, if not in the prime of life, at least in reasonably robust good health.
As my birthday looms, it seems like a good time to grapple with what I'd like in my decline.
So here goes:
"Here are some of the things that would make me happy.
"Sunshine, first of all. Park me in a sunny spot every morning, please. Maybe with a view of a bird feeder. If it's cloudy, try one of those lamps that are said to mimic the sun's stimulating effect.
"Next, massage therapy. Even now, I like to get body work on a regular basis. A good brisk professional massage does wonders for my back when it's stiff from hours at the computer keyboard. It also soothes my arthritic feet and hands. In general, it improves circulation, aids relaxation, and leaves me happy and mellow. Old folks whose partners have died are often starved for human touch. And even non-professionals can give a good back rub or a little foot massage.
"I'd like to have nearby a tape recorder (or whatever technology has replaced it by then). I may not be able to follow new material, but play me recordings of stories that I've known for years. W. Somerset Maugham's and O. Henry's short stories; P. G, Wodehouse and James Thurber for fun; and the novels of Jane Austen.
"Poetry, too -- John Donne, Stephen Crane, the sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and anything in the Mack, Dean and Frost anthology I had in a college class with the poet Daniel Hughes forty years ago. You will find it on my bookshelf, read to tatters. When you have time, your own dear voices reading those selections would give me great pleasure.
"And music! Robert Schumann's Piano concerto in A Minor, Mozart's Requiem, anything by Beethoven. And of course, rock and roll songs from the Fifties and Sixties!
"I've never been much of a gardener, but I think I'd like to have some plants nearby. I love lilacs, and narcissus, especially the ones planted in gravel that I could watch open day by day.
"Pets are good company. Perhaps an older dog from the pound, who would lie quietly with her head in my lap. A bird might be nice, too, like the parakeet we used to have, hand-raised so it was tame enough to land on my shoulder.
"I'm looking forward to being old enough it won't matter anymore what I eat! I'll want eggs every morning, and the dark meat of chicken, both of which I strictly ration now. I hope I can still enjoy fruits -- almost any kind, though I have a special fondness for stewed apricots or fresh raspberries.
"Thank you for looking after me. I hope it gives you one tenth of the pleasure it gave me to look after you when you were small."
There, I've done it. You do it, too, if not today, then at least on your next birthday.
Copyright News Tribune, La Salle IL. Reprinted by permission of Kristie Miller, author of Isabella Greenway: An Enterprising Woman.
. Put this Aging with Dignity document and task at the top of your to-do list. Expressing your Five Wishes lets your family and doctors know:
* Who you want to make health care decisions for you when you can't make them.
* The kind of medical treatment you want or don't want.
* How comfortable you want to be.
* How you want people to treat you.
* What you want your loved ones to know.
• The Things They Left Behind
by Peggy Burds, owner of Emerald Estate Sales, First Personal Singular Column in Washington Post Magazine (10-17-10). She concludes: "Everything I own has a story: It may not have started out as my story, but when I chose to bring it into my life, it became part of it. We all write our own history, and our stuff is often the only thing left to tell that story. I don't want my story to be a bunch of junk that doesn't mean anything."