Why advance planning is ‘important’“Advance planning is a gift of love for the people that are the closest to you” Dr Mallon said. Comprehensive planning can save a lot of time and money. It also means families and friends don’t have to put their grieving on hold to make financial decisions, or decisions about intervention, treatment, care, and what kind of quality of life their loved one might have liked. Despite this up to 80% of older people who are admitted to the hospital emergency department don’t have an advance care plan in place, Dr Mallon said. Without an advance care plan, important medical decisions are often left to medical staff alone. And doctors generally make conservative decisions to prolong death, which could also prolong the person’s suffering. “When you don’t plan and make family members guess, they may not get it right … Thorough advance planning conversations and arrangements mean our friends and family do not have to guess when making critical decisions.” “So when we have advance planning as a normal natural part of life, all of us are prepared and ready … Don’t make people guess for you.” It’s also important to talk about death with younger people and children, because not talking about it only fosters the myth that only older people die, Dr Mallon added. “Not all of us live a long life. Children die, babies die. Young adults die. Life happens.”
Funerals and advance planningWhen we put off talking about what we want for our quality of life, we put off talking about our funerals as well. It also makes it harder for those we love to make sensible decisions about what the person they loved would have wanted. It can also end up costing a lot more money, too. Having to make those decisions, after a loved one has died, can make the grieving process that more difficult, too. “We also end up with this strange metric where the amount of money we spend on someone after they’ve died – we have a big lavish funeral, and a very expensive casket or coffin, we have enormous amounts of flowers, we have all these extras at the funeral – we have all this extra stuff after someone’s dead and that’s supposed to show them how much they were loved. Which is interesting because they are dead. They are not aware of it. They’re not there.” “It’s important to understand that a funeral doesn’t need to be a formal gathering, or in a church… You can have a funeral at home, you can have a funeral at the beach. It can be improvised … you can have a dance floor. Your funeral can look and feel the way you want.” You might want to have a celebration-of-life party, or ‘living wake’, while you’re still here. “I call them fabulous going-away parties,” Dr Mallon said. “With fabulous going away parties, there’s a lot of joy and happiness. It’s about communications and a healthy cultural change.” She encouraged people to flip the metric of spending on life and death. “Let’s think about spending our money more on having a really good quality of life. And then we can budget a more modest amount for after our death.”
How to make an advance care planDr Mallon invited participants to take a moment to consider what they value in life, and in death, to form their advance care plan. “Sit down with your partner, spouse or parent and make some notes. Ask: ‘Have you ever thought about this?’ ” Things to consider in an advance care plan might include:
- Do you have a strong position on resuscitation and/or heroic medical interventions for yourself? What would you like, if a decision had to be made for you?
- What are your personal values, priorities and pleasures? What about pets, hobbies and passions like food, sex, art, music, writing and reading. Your planning should reflect your values first and foremost. For example, you might like a story or audiobook read to you, or to hear a favourite piece of music. Or perhaps, like Dr Mallon, your wish is to see your beloved pet every day.
- Pre-plan your funeral or memorial. That way you get control over the farewell that best fits your life. And you can select your own music!