Note from Rabbi Address:
Richard Conradi is a member of a congregation in London and has been working with his congregation and others regarding raising awareness of end of life planning from Jewish point of view and from laws of UK. He wrote this for Jewish Sacred Aging as a result of a session we did at the recent World Union for Progressive Judaism convention in Jerusalem, which looked at how congregations could adapt to the growing impact of the longevity revolution now being felt around the world.
An interesting issue is that the push to raise awareness of the need to “have the conversation” is really now part of a global effort.
I am Richard Conradi, a 75 year old male living in the UK. Five years ago, my brother Stephen was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer at the age of 52. He was divorced and had two teen-age sons. I was in fact his adult next-of-kin and became his “Enduring Power of Attorney” legally to act for him when he was admitted to a hospice. When he died I was his executor and thus responsible for his funeral and obtaining probate. This task was all the more difficult as he had left it too late to give me all the information I needed for this task. And amongst other difficulties I could not get facebook to close his page as I could not demonstrate I had received his permission.
Then 4 years ago my younger sister Prudence [Prue] was diagnosed with terminal oesophageal cancer with 6 months to live at the age of 61. She had never been married, lived on her own and had had no children. Again I was her next-of-kin, later to become her Enduring Power of Attorney and then her executor. She decided she wanted to die at her home. During the time left to her and with the help of her friends and using her computer she wrote out for me all the information she knew I would need to arrange her funeral according to her wishes, and to settle her estate in accordance with her will.
I visited her regularly and each time we spoke about what she wanted me to do for her when she died. She had been a psychotherapist and this may be why she had no inhibitions about discussing her dying wishes with me.
It was 1st January 2013 and I sat on a chair next to her bed in her own bedroom and held her hand. She smiled at me, tightened her grip and said she was so pleased there was nothing more to discuss. She died a few hours later on January 2nd and I know she died in peace.
Next day I visited her home to pick up her computer and found on the screen an icon called “Loki”
- Loki was the name of her lovely but then ill cat. I clicked on the icon and found her instructions to me as to how to look after Loki – his medication, name of vet, food and when to feed him and names of friends who she thought might like to take Loki and look after
The information Prue had given me made the decisions I needed to take to arrange her funeral and to honour all her requests so much easier. These included who to tell she had died, type of coffin (I had got her a catalogue of coffins, at her request), who to lead the service, the music to be played, the people to give eulogies and where to scatter her ashes. And for the next year I had no problems whilst carrying out my duties as her executor which included selling her home and passing all her many possessions to the people she had listed. What Prue did was her gift to me.
So I decided to try to assist and encourage others to start thinking about their wishes for the end of their lives and to discuss these with their family, and not to wait until it was too late.
The heading of this article is taken from the Times, one of the most respected UK daily newspapers. I was aware of many articles published by Times journalists over a couple of years. Headings included
- Dying Wishes – We have to overcome our understandable reluctance to talk about death
- Lessons in life from the death of a loved one
- Taking steps to switch off your digital legacy smoothly
- Eulogies are too good to waste on the dead
- “I’m putting my affairs in order” by a quadriplegic journalist who writes a weekly article “Spinal Column” – she said she started to write down her wishes but got bored as she had no concept of what to include so she gave up!
- We all need to learn how to talk about death – It’s not just the importance of grieving that society has forgotten, there are practical skills that the bereaved need
- Facebook refuses to delete killer from victim’s page – the victim had never given his password to anyone.
I am the group leader for our synagogue’s bereavement support group, which received the “Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service” a few years ago, and am well aware of the difficulty the bereaved often have in finding all the information needed for the tax people, the lawyers and indeed for themselves. They will sometimes say that their loss has been made all the worse for the fact that their now dead relative would never tell them what they needed to know. I believe this is not just stupid but it is also selfish.
So I decided to create something that should overcome all these problems – broaching the subject, the reluctance of many people to talk to others about end-of-life – “I am only 50 – I don’t need to think about it yet” – “I will look into it later” – “I don’t want to discuss it” – “why should I bother – others can deal with it when the time comes”. And then if they do want to start working on this what are the subjects to be consider and where to write them and to do so confidentially.
I have also found that people assume they only need to think about what other people may need when they die – but what about if they have a stroke, or suffer from dementia or other debilitating illness?
So I designed a fillable “Advanced Personal Information” form based on my own experiences with my two siblings and also my elderly mother and my elderly step-mother (my father had been divorced from my mother). This form can be completed on a computer and saved to a memory stick (which can then be filed with your will or other secure place) or the form can be downloaded and then printed out and completed by hand. Either way I suggest that it is reviewed annually.
I was invited recently to lead a discussion at a one day forum on end of life, run by Jewish Care, one of the foremost UK Jewish care charities. I was speaking to a group of people of all ages but mostly in their sixties or more. One lady said that this form was a “life-saver” for her as she could now go, with a copy of this form, to visit her elderly mother who had refused that far to discuss her end-of-life wishes, and now they could complete it together.
In the UK there is a highly regarded charity called The National Council for Palliative Care which is the umbrella charity for all those affected by end of life and hospice care. They created “Dying Matters”, a coalition of 30,000 members which aims to help people talk more openly about dying, death and bereavement, and to make plans for end of life. Its membership includes hospices, care homes, National Health Service organisations and staff, GPs, funeral directors, the legal sector, charities, faith groups and many more. Their logo is on my form which is downloadable from their website. Click here (www.dyingmatters.org/page/planning-ahead) and then go to paragraph 3, last sentence and click on the name “Advanced Personal Information” to download it to your computer – save it to a named folder then open it from that folder. Or you can download directly from here (https://goo.gl/XuSXu4) .
If you have read this far and are wish to download the form, PLEASE then complete it now and not later – later may be too late!
To contact me Richard Conradi, write to firstname.lastname@example.org; this email address is also shown on page 2 of the form.