A little-known duty of every Episcopal priest is to remind their parishioners to make a will. It’s even in the Book of Common Prayer, on p. 445: “The Minister of the Congregation is directed to instruct the people, from time to time, about the duty of … all persons to make wills, while they are in health, arranging for the disposal of their temporal goods, not neglecting, if they are able, to leave bequests for religious and charitable uses.” The other day, our Bishop sent a request to clergy to make sure they’ve made provisions for care of their family and congregation should we get ill with COVID-19, and also to remind us to update our own wills. It was a somewhat unwelcome reminder that this pandemic is making us all think about things that we don’t often make a priority, or that don’t have a sense of urgency for us.
Perhaps my reminder to you is also unwelcome, but I hope you will take the time to update your own will, health care proxy, advance directives, and funeral plans. Thinking through these topic can actually be a hopeful and meaningful exercise, as we reflect on what’s important to us and what we value most. And it can give a lot of peace of mind, to both ourselves and our families, to know we’ve taken care of these things in case of emergency. I’ve said it before, but I can’t tell you the number of times that a family has told me “Thank goodness Mom/Dad left their funeral plans with the church. It is such a relief to us that we don’t have to guess at what they wanted. That would have been one more burden in this difficult time.” As the health care proxy for my own parents, I know now is a good time to review with them what kind of care they would want if they happen to get sick with COVID-19.
Hospitals are Different Now
One thing we know about the current situation is that hospitals are different now. Family and friends are not allowed to visit, or even enter the building. Doctors and nurses are exceptionally busy. This means that sometimes it can be hard to communicate with a loved one who is hospitalized. If someone is seriously ill with COVID-19, they may be put on a ventilator. A patient on a ventilator cannot talk or communicate at all. COVID-19 patients can be on a ventilator for several weeks. Thus, communicating your health care wishes now, in a written document, is particularly important.
Things to Do Now
In addition to a will, all people should have a Health Care Proxy and Advance Directive in place.
- A Health Care Proxy is a simple legal document that allows you to name someone else to make health care decisions for you if you become unable to communicate those decisions.
- An Advance Directive (also sometimes called a Living Will) is a legal document that outlines your wishes for your medical care should you be seriously ill.
Both are legal documents, so in order to make one you need to have two witnesses who are over 18 sign the document. This may be hard to do at this time when we’re all sheltering at home. There is also a “trusted decision maker form” you can find online that is not a legal document, but can be a useful guide to your caregivers if you can’t create the legal document now.
There are several free websites that have the forms available and can walk you through filling them out.
- One is Cake: https://www.joincake.com/
It has information about end-of-life decisions in general. It includes a non-legal “trusted decision maker form” you can use if you don’t currently have access to two witnesses to sign a legal form.
- Another is Prepare for Your Care: https://prepareforyourcare.org/welcome
It has a lot of information about Advance Directives and Health Care Proxies, including video tutorials. You can also download the legal forms for each state.
Lastly, everyone over 60 should have a funeral plan on file with your church. You can download Redeemer’s funeral planning guide from our website: Funeral Planning
Rev Kate and Rev Andrew are happy to talk through this process at any time.
Plan for the Future
Just as families often have plans for a fire or other emergency, you should have a plan for possible hospitalizations.
- Who would care for your pet?
- Do they have a house key?
- Who will pay your bills if you are hospitalized for an extended time?
- Do they have your account numbers and online passwords?
- Does your health care proxy know where your important documents are?
You may also wish to prepare a list, in advance, of what you would want to bring with you if you had to go to the hospital. Then, in a stressful time, you’ll have that list to refer to so you don’t forget anything. A phone or computer, plus chargers for them, is a crucial item so you can communicate with loved ones since they won’t be able to visit you. The list might also include spare clothes, toiletries, glasses, hearing aids, a good book, and copies of your advance directive and health care proxy.
Clergy Are Here to Help
As you think about your faith, values, and goals, and how they may influence your health care decisions, your clergy are happy to be a resource. Feel free to schedule a phone call or Zoom meeting if you want to talk things through.
Some things aren’t fun, but they are important. Having a health care proxy, advance directive, will, and funeral plan in place can make life a lot easier in case of emergency. Now is a great time to cross these off your to-do list. It is a way you can care for yourself and your loved ones. Again, if you want to talk about any of this, don’t hesitate to give me a call.