Facing the Future

Introduction

It’s never ‘too soon’ to put our affairs in order so that all is prepared in the event of our death. After all, it is going to happen – we just don’t know when. But why bother? After all, once we’re dead, doesn’t it all become someone else’s problem? Yes – and that’s why it’s worth bothering. Many people will be affected by our death – people who love and care about us, who depend on us, who will miss us and be distressed at our passing, who may disagree with decisions we have made about organ donation, who might want to – or have to – attend to our funeral wishes and what to do with our body, who will be involved in winding up our estate or receiving something from our estate, who may like to have their own wishes taken into account in relation to our funeral or legacy. And what about before our death? What will happen if we have diminished mental capacity, and we need someone to to make decisions for us about long term care, finances and other affairs? What if decisions need to be made about medical treatment or withdrawing life-support? This page provides links to many general resources and organisations that can help us navigate all this.

In addition, there are links to Jewish teachings, resources and organisations that provide a specifically Jewish perspective on these issues. In the Talmud (Shabbat 153a), the story goes that a eulogy (chesped) at a person’s funeral, as well as people’s reaction at their death, will give a good indication of the quality of life they have led and (for those who believe in it) the quality of life they will have in the ‘world to come’. The passage immediately following this is much more well known. It reminds us that we should never become complacent, that there is always something we can do to make ourselves better people, and to make the world a better place:

“R. Eliezer said: ‘Repent one day before your death.’ His disciples asked him, ‘Does then one know on what day he will die?’ ‘Then all the more reason that he repent today’, [R. Eliezer] replied, ‘lest he die tomorrow, and thus his whole life is spent in repentance.'”

Jewish tradition offers an ethical and spiritual argument for maintaining mindfulness of our own mortality. But in this passage, we could broaden the meaning of ‘repent’ to include the idea of living – and dying – in such a way that we improve the quality of other people’s lives, and do not add burden to them.

Checklist for preparing to Face the Future
  • Here is a comprehensive checklist (PDF, or Word document), compiled from searching the web, and drawing on the GYST  website and ideas from my Ruach Chavurah community.
General Resources
  • Age UK
  • Alzheimer’s Society UK
    • Caring for a person with dementia – factsheets and publications
    • Becoming a deputy for a person with dementia – this is someone (who may be close to the person) appointed by a court, in the event of the person not have arranged in advance to have a Lasting Power of Attorney (see also links on this page for ‘Lasting Power of Attorney’ and ‘Compassion in Dying’). Just as with LPAs, you can have a both a ‘property and affairs’ and a ‘personal welfare’ deputyship. (Download factsheet here.)
  •  Books
    • Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End (Atul Gawande, 2014) – “We have come to medicalize aging, frailty and death, treating them as if they were just one more medical problem to overcome. It is not just medicine that is needed in one’s declining years, but life -a life with meaning, a life as rich and full as possible under the circumstances. Being Mortal is not only wise and deeply moving; it is an essential and insightful book for our times, as one would expect from Atul Gawande, one of our finest physician writers.” (Oliver Sacks) “This humane and beautifully written book is a manifesto that could radically improve the lives of the aged and the terminally ill.” (Leyla Sanai Independent 25 Oct, 2014)
    • How to Age (Anne Kempf, 2014) “Society has a deep fear of ageing. Old age is increasingly viewed as a biomedical problem, something to be avoided at all costs and then vanished away by medicine. Anne Karpf urges us to change our narrative. Exploring how our outlook on ageing is historically determined and culturally defined, she draws upon case studies, old and new, to suggest how ageing can be an actively enriching time of immense growth. She argues that if we can recognize growing older as an inevitable part of the human condition, then the great challenge of ageing turns out to be none other than the challenge of living.”
    • Sentenced to Life (Clive James, 2015) – A book of poetry that is powerful, touching, sad and funny, written by someone who was diagnosed with emphysema and kidney failure.
    • Somewhere Towards the End (Diana Athill, 2008)”Diana Athill made her reputation as a writer with the candour of her memoirs, now aged ninety, and freed from any inhibitions that even she may once have had, she reflects frankly on the losses and occasionally the gains that old age brings, and on the wisdom and fortitude required to face death. This is a lively narrative of events, lovers and friendships: the people and experiences that have taught her to regret very little, to resist despondency and to question the beliefs and customs of her own generation.”
  • Care Act 2014
  • Care fees planning – there are many organisations into which you can pay regular instalments in order to prepare for covering the costs of care needs that you may have later in life. Below are three advice pages:
  • Citizens Advice – death and wills
  • Compassion in Dying – organisation offering free information guides (some downloadable PDFs included here), and free consultations and phone advice. (“Compassion in Dying supports people to use their existing rights within the law. We do not campaign for assisted dying, [which] is the focus of our sister organisation, ‘Dignity in Dying'”)
    • Planning Ahead: making choices for the end of life (overview of all the issues) (downloadable PDF)
    • Lasting Power of Attorney for Health and Welfare and Advance Decisions to Refuse Treatment (used to be called Living Will) (downloadable PDF) (see also below for UK government guidance booklet and official form). (See also on this page about deputies, under the section on Alzheimer Society UK.)
    • DNAR (Do Not Attempt Resuscitation) forms and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) decisions (downloadable PDF). NB Check the current rules about making a 999 call – emergency service personnel normally are required to attempt resuscitation or CPR if they are called, regardless of what the person’s wishes might be.
    • Free information line: 0800-999-2434 or email info@compassionindying.org.uk
  • Conversation Project – “The Conversation Project is dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care.” “When it comes to end-of-life care, one conversation can make all the difference.” The site includes a step-by-step online guide ‘starter kit’, which is also available as a downloadable PDF.
  • CRUSE Bereavement Care – “Somewhere to turn when someone dies.”
  • Death Café – “At a Death Café people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death. Our objective is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’. A Death Cafe is a group directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counselling session.” Includes dates and venues of forthcoming events, and advice on how to run your own Death Café.
  • Death Salon – “We hold events that bring together intellectuals and independent thinkers engaged in the exploration of our shared mortality by sharing knowledge and art. … We aim to [open] up conversations with the public about death and its anthropological, historical, and artistic contributions to culture. In the spirit of the 18th-century salon, our informal intellectual gatherings include one multi-day annual Death Salon event and smaller one-day Death Salon events hosted in cities worldwide.”
  • Dignitas – “To live with dignity – to die with dignity”
  • Dignity in Dying – “We campaign to change the law to allow the choice of an assisted death for terminally ill, mentally competent adults, within upfront safeguards.” “Under our current law, some dying people are forced to suffer against their wishes. If we can change the law no more people will die, but fewer will suffer.”
  • Dying Matters – “Raising awareness of dying, death and bereavement”
  • Get Your Shit Together (GYST) – “Life and Death Planning: Low effort, high reward. – There are a few simple things I wish I had taken care of before my life went sideways, like a will, living will, and some details jotted down. Should the ground fall out from under your feet—plan now for a softer landing. In fact, it’s easy to finish the planning and basic papers your life needs. In 2009 my husband was killed in an accident. In the following hours, weeks, and months I was shocked by the number of things we had left disorganized or ignored. Critical documents you can spend a fraction of the time doing now. Here are those core items, streamlined. Get your shit together now and breathe a huge sigh of relief. You can do it.” Includes a very useful set of checklists for different areas of your life, papers and info you need to have ready for those who survive you etc.
  • Go Wish – “Go Wish gives you an easy, even entertaining way to talk about what is most important to you. The cards help you find words to talk about what is important if you were to be living a life that may be shortened by serious illness. Playing the game with your relatives or best friends can help you learn how you can best comfort your loved ones when they need you most.”
  • Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA)
    • For Health and Welfare (HW) – HW guidance booklet and official HW form from the UK government’s Office of the Public Guardian
    • For Property and Financial Affairs (PFA) – PFA guidance booklet and official PFA form from the UK government’s Office of the Public Guardian
    • Choosing your Power of Attorney – remember that as you get older, those the same age as you may be facing similar issue. Your Power of Attorney may die before you. In can be a good idea to appoint someone who is a generation younger than you. And remember to update your documents from time to time to reflect who is the most appropriate person for these roles.
    • See also on this page about deputies, under the section on Alzheimer Society UK.
  • MedicAlert – “MedicAlert provides vital details in an emergency… because every moment matters. We support members with a wide range of medical conditions and allergies, which we help them to describe on custom made medical I.D. jewellery. MedicAlert also keeps secure, detailed medical records for our members which can be updated at any time. This information can be accessed in an emergency, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from anywhere in the world, using our emergency telephone number and we are able to converse in over 100 languages.” T: 01908-951045, E: info@medicalert.org.uk
  • Natural Death Centre – including The New Natural Death Handbook, information about Woodland burials etc
  • Order of the Good Death – “The Order of the Good Death is a group of funeral industry professionals, academics, and artists exploring ways to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality.  It was founded in January 2011 by Caitlin Doughty, a mortician and writer in Los Angeles, CA.” The Order is about making death a part of your life. Staring down your death fears—whether it be your own death, the death of those you love, the pain of dying, the afterlife (or lack thereof), grief, corpses, bodily decomposition, or all of the above.” (Wikipedia entry for founder, Caitlin Doughty, and her YouTube channel Ask a Mortician)
  • Organ Donation at the NHS (NHSBT – NHS Blood & Transplant) – including how to join the register, information guide to organ donation and Jewish beliefs
  • OSHO Sammasati Approach (with Maneesha James) – articles, workshops & individual sessions
  • UK government:
    • Guide to what to do after a death – What to do first after a death; registering a death; documents and information needed when someone dies; organ donation; paying for a funeral; arranging a funeral (NB funeral expenses can be taken from a deceased person’s bank before probate is granted); when someone dies abroad; advice, support and comfort for the bereaved; coroners, post-mortems and inquests; notifying DVA (Driver and Vehicle Agency) of bereavement; caring for someone who is terminally ill. Step 1) Get a medical certificate from a GP or hospital doctor 2) Register the death (UK: within 5 days). Using the Tell Us Once service enables you to inform tax, benefits, passport and council office simultaneously 3) Arrange the funeral
    • Cremation forms and guidance – “Forms for applying for a cremation, including certificates and authorisation forms for doctors, funeral directors and crematorium managers.”
    • Wills, probate and inheritance – if the person has left a will or not; getting access to bank accounts (NB funeral expenses can be taken from a deceased person’s bank before probate is granted). Once probate has been granted, you can access and even download a will from Find A Will. Probate takes at least 2 months to come through in the UK – and the tax office gets the first payment, before the estate is distributed to those named in the will. The UK government website offers information on Inheritance Tax, including Gifts, Passing on a Home, Charity Gifts, Leavings Assets to a Spouse or Civil Partner.
      • NB Co-habitees do not receive any tax relief on inheritance, nor, indeed, any automatic inheritance rights in the event of the partner dying without a will (intestate), nor automatic rights to continue living in their shared home if the home was owned by the partner. “Despite the misconception that the term “common law husband/wife” has some legal standing, unfortunately it does not. If an unmarried partner dies without making sufficient provision for their surviving partner in their Will then the survivor has no right to an inheritance from the estate under the existing intestacy rules. They would be entitled to bring a claim under the 1975 Act [Inheritance (provisions for Family and Dependants) Act 1975] so long as they had been cohabiting with them for at least 2 years prior to the death, as husband and wife in the same household . However, this involves instructing specialist inheritance dispute solicitors like ourselves and pursuing a formal ’75 Act claim through the Courts. Understandably many people may be reluctant to do this at such a difficult time.” Quoted from Slee Blackwell Solicitors ‘Inheritance rights for unmarried couples and spouses‘. Here is another page on co-habitation agreements, wills etc.
  • Which? guides and online articles & resources
  • Woodland Burials – “Woodland Burials offer anenvironmentally friendly, cost effective & permanent alternative to traditional funerals, cemeteries and graveyards.” “Our Woodlands of Remembrance provide an undisturbed place of rest in perpetuity, in a setting that is, or will become, a natural woodland, managed in accordance with a scheme approved by Wildlife Trusts to create a thriving woodland nature reserve and wildlife sanctuary.”
Jewish resources
Other
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