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It’s important to have a mandate, to make your dying wishes known

Montreal Gazette by Hilary Rose 21 May 2015

The other day I asked my 95-year-old father whether he had made any plans for the future.

“Plans? For the future?”

“Yes,” I said. “Plans. Like a living will, or a power of attorney (called a mandate in Quebec). That sort of thing.”

My father reminded me that he had had a will for years and he updated it regularly. I explained the difference between a will and a living will. A will indicates how he would like his estate settled after his death, but a living will indicates how he would like to live his life in case of incapacity.

“You know, Dad. Like a DNR — a Do Not Resuscitate order.” I told him that there are forms he could fill out, and that the forms are available online. My father, let me add, is a former journalist who is much more techno-savvy than I am. In fact, he has more Facebook friends than I do.

I showed him the forms for British Columbia (each province has different forms, and my father lives in B.C.). Over the next few days, he went through the forms, filling them out. I would get a regular report about his progress.

He seemed to be enjoying himself. He asked my brothers to sign the documents. He told me he was going to the doctor’s for a checkup, and he would take the forms with him. I was pleasantly surprised by how well he was taking it. And I was proud of him for following up on it.

A few days later, we spoke on the phone. He had been to the doctor’s and showed him the forms. Somehow in their conversation it came up that I had suggested that my father fill out the forms. Then the doctor asked my father to thank me for him. He said to say, “Thank you for making my job easier.”

In Norfolk, England, this week, Dying Matters Awareness Week is being marked with workshops on living wills and other end-of-life issues. However, one need not be in England; the Dying Matters website is accessible on a permanent basis.

The goal of the Dying Matters Coalition (under the auspices of the National Council for Palliative Care in the U.K.) is to raise awareness of the need to talk openly about death, and of making your wishes known to family members and health-care providers. According to the data on their website, a large majority of people have not made their final wishes known. I suspect it’s no different here in Canada.

For example, although the majority of Canadians want to die at home, most will not. According to Katherine Arnup, retired Carleton University professor and hospice volunteer, most Canadians will die in hospital. Arnup, by the way, is the author of a recently published book “I Don’t Have Time For This!”: A Compassionate Guide For Caring for Your Parents and Yourself.

Admittedly, these conversations aren’t easy. But the conversation I had with my father wasn’t that hard, either. And with resources like the Dying Matters website or Arnup’s new book — just to name a couple — these conversations with aging parents can be easier.

As I said to my father, “Don’t you want to make these decisions yourself? If you don’t make them, someone else will, and there’s no guarantee that someone else will respect your wishes.” Have the conversation. It’s a matter of life and death.

Hilary Rose is an associate professor in the Department of Applied Human Sciences at Concordia University. Her research focuses on parent/child relations and Canadian family policy, and she is a Certified Family Life Educator.