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Going Beyond Retirement to End of Life Issues

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Investment professionals tend to have a handle on preparing for the future and their own mortality. They’re aware of the importance of protecting their assets and minimizing their liabilities. They know where to start when it comes to thinking about how they may be able to provide for the generations that come after them.

At the 2018 SVIA Fall Forum in October, Chaplain Carla Thompson of Capital Caring Hospice challenged the investment professionals in attendance to add two additional elements to their long-term planning: deciding who they wish to make decisions for them if and when they can’t do it for themselves, and how they wish to live or be cared for at that time.

Thompson noted that as “children of the Enlightenment” taught to hang our hats on the sciences, it is tempting for us to believe that science and technology will finally bring us to a place where we are, at least temporarily, “eternal.” But, she said, “that’s not the case today.”

In that case, deciding now whether we want doctors to pursue extraordinary measures to prolong our lives if we become seriously ill, and putting those wishes in writing and making sure the people close to us know them, can greatly improve our chances of being treated the way we wish as we approach the end of our lives. That’s important, she continued, noting that her years of experience counseling people has shown her that “nothing is more horrible (at life’s end) than having somebody go against your personal wishes.”

“The biggest issues that arise when people are reticent of talking about death is their fear of losing two things: dignity and control,” Thompson said. “This begins when we’re going into our toddlerhood. What’s the first thing a toddler wants besides being fed and loved? A toddler wants control. ‘Let me start to do it.’ They want ever-expanding layers of control.

“So, she asked, “would the assumption be that at the end of your life you’re just going to say, ‘I don’t want any control?’ Of course not. You’ve reached the penultimate point, assuming a person has not died in an unexpected accident, in which control becomes very important.”

Thompson also pointed out that different people will have different wishes about how they want to spend the last moments of their lives. While most want to be comfortable, she said, others eschew drugs that would enable that, preferring to be fully present for the experience. She added that 90 percent of the people in this country die in a hospital and encouraged all to think about whether that was what they want for themselves.

Although it is inherently common to want to avoid thinking about and preparing for death, Thompson encouraged everyone in her audience to do it because no one knows when death will come. “We’re not going to end death, at least not in our lifetimes,” she said. “But we can be honest about the subject. We can have conversations. We can sit our children down. We can sit with each other. We need to ensure that everyone we are responsible for understands this is a natural part of the life experience. We have to make sure it becomes normal.”

Thompson concluded by encouraging everyone in her audience to “hold your mortality gently. Know what a gift it is to be here, to sit here, to be with the people you love and care about. The people that work for you and that you work for. And when you have embraced that and the things I talked about earlier, you will be on the road to living life more vigorously, more robustly, more fruitfully. And less fearfully, and less concerned about the eventuality of our mortal existence.”