Pandemic Proof Advance Directive

The secret is, all of those plans that you made were never the most powerful parts of Advance Directive work anyway.

The most important part of creating an Advance Directive is not to “get your paperwork in order.” Yes, that’s the most common reason shared to encourage you “not be a burden” to your loved ones so they do not have to guess at what your end-of-life preferences might be. Fair enough.

But, this pandemic has just revealed that your EOL preferences might not be even remotely possible.

You knew there was always a chance that a doctor or a loved one could over ride your desires by making the best possible decision on your behalf under the circumstances. You knew that you might not die in your desired location with the perfect music playing and the perfect company. You knew also that your first choice of next-of-kin may not be available which is why you had to list a second choice. Still, you signed your name, and filed it with your doctor, knowing that there was a chance that none of the first choices for dying and death may come to fruition.

But you never guessed almost none of it would be feasible. And you never thought that your pre-paid funeral, the one you so carefully organized with the funeral director would be completely impossible. You didn’t imagine that it wouldn’t be possible to have your 50 closest loved ones gather in a flower filled room to tell stories, kneel by each other to pray and hug, and eat your favorite foods and drinks together. It was, after all, a very simple event you had planned.

What could go wrong? *side glance*

So, now, is your Advance Directive rubbish? Was it a waste of time? What parts of it will be honored? What if your death is closer than you thought it was going to be? What if you die alone in an ICU?

My friends, all of those same scenarios and fears were a possibility even before Covid-19. It’s just, that those questions have come to the forefront right now and it doesn’t feel good. But I have some good news.

The secret is, all of those plans that you made were never the most powerful parts of Advance Directive work anyway.

Something magical is possible when you create your Advance Directive — but it is invisible. If you have been around someone who is dying, you understand that there’s a lot more going on than just the mundane. It’s more than paperwork, visitors and preferences. Dying is curious, unknown, mystical, and you have no idea what is going on inside the mind of the one dying. Enter: The Pandemic Proof Advance Directive.

Set your paperwork aside. Let’s look at what’s not written there.

Imagine a room in your home that is locked and you have never gone in it. You carry the key in your pocket but you just never have the time to open it. Or, maybe you have plenty of time to open it, but you’re not sure what you’re going to find in there so you think it’s best to just keep it locked. Maybe some days you hear a thump in the room and it makes your heart race. You think, maybe I should open the door. You pause, waiting for another thump, but when it doesn’t happen, you continue on with your life and save the investigation for another day. This can go on for years. This can actually go on for an entire lifetime and then one day, you find your self on the other side of the door completely confused. You’re not sure how you got there and you think, how did this happen!? This is not how I planned to open the door!

But, here’s an alternative: This evening when you feel tender but brave, you decide to unlock the door. Your fears and imagination almost stop you, but you turn the key in the lock and press on.

When you enter, you are surprised because it is not dark and dusty and scary. There are no ghosts, no cobwebs, nothing jumps out at you. Instead, it is simply an ordinary room. It’s neither new nor old, not hot or cold, not light or dark… in fact, it’s feels like nothing more than possibility. Looking around the room, you decide there should be a bed in there- and suddenly a bed appears. You sit on the bed and it creaks in a familiar way and you settle down realizing you are in your own blankets and you say, “Ah, this is my bed.” As you lay there, you think that it would be nice to have a window open so you can hear the birds. And, before you can blink a window opens with a little warm breeze, a stream of light and the room fills with gentle bird song. You smile. You think, there should be a little chair over there, for someone to sit next to you and read aloud. And it is so.

You get comfortable and your mind drifts… you glance at the walls and think there should be some photos there. You think of all of your loved ones that you would miss here on earth… But then you also think of all your loved ones that have died before you. You think there should be photos of both on the walls because after all, while you are dying you are neither fully alive nor fully dead. You smile at your own cleverness and instantly the walls fill with photos of everyone you have ever loved. But, up pops one that makes you hesitate. UGH. Do you really want that person’s photo on the wall? You got in such a terrible fight last week. But… you’re surprised… because in this room you notice that your feelings are different. You’re not so angry. You’re not in such a hurry here. In fact, you can’t really remember what your argument was about. You conclude, that you would like to have their photo on the wall. You decide that you’d like to apologize to them now. You decide that you actually want to tell them that you love them.

Now you have done several things. You planned your ideal dying, but more importantly you have found out things about your living that will make a difference on your deathbed. You also found a place of comfort within your own mind regarding your dying. You imagined your own ideal death. You felt it, you smelled it, you heard it and because you imagined it once, you can certainly imagine it again. No matter where you are or who you are with (or not with) you have the power to rebuild that comfort in your own mind regardless of your external circumstances and a peaceful death is possible. Leave the other details up to the living- they have their own work to do, and that’s okay.

Your dying can be absolutely anything you imagine. And, that’s pandemic proof.

Author of Death Nesting and Ancient Death Doula Series. Feeding Your Demons Facilitator. Community Deathcare teacher. Mama of three.