Unconventional choices

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By Marianne Delorey

Marianne Delorey
Marianne Delorey

Perhaps it is the nature of elder housing. Perhaps people who have no one else seek community in their later years. In any case, I have met my share of people who do not have family or friends to speak of.  Some have always been loners. Some have distanced themselves from family, or had family walk away from them. In any case, many people find themselves near the end of their lives with few choices of people to lean on.

Adults in general, but especially those who are elderly, should have three documents drawn up and signed well in advance of problems: a health care proxy, a power of attorney, and a will.

The biggest problem I see in my profession is that many elders do not complete these documents.  In many cases, there is an aversion to making a choice because people are afraid to make the wrong choice.

I have a message from personal experience to share – the only wrong choice is to make no choice at all.

My mother chose, but did not choose me. She chose my brother because he was the oldest. It bothered me because I was the most involved child. I went to doctor appointments and kept an updated list of medications. I also have devoted my career to taking care of the elderly (and having a graduate degree in gerontology).

I did feel slighted, to be honest. I was also a bit inconvenienced when she needed a health care proxy but my brother was out of town. But, in the end, I am glad he was chosen because I can’t imagine having to go through all the work alone or worse, without my mom having done her due diligence and having these documents in place. Maybe her choice was not the one I would have expected, but the fact that she made the choice made my life much easier. And if I can “get over” feeling slighted, so will the people that you are afraid of offending.

Regardless who we offend with our choices or motivations, these decisions, made before they are needed, truly show a person’s love for their family by making sure to inconvenience them as little as possible.

And for those who struggle because they are loners, or because they don’t think anyone will really be there, here are some questions you can ask to determine who you really count on, and who can be there for you:

  1. Who is the last person to call you?
  2. Who has always told you the truth?
  3. Who keeps your spare key for when you lock yourself out?
  4. Who thinks clearly in a crisis?
  5. Who always remembers your birthday?
  6. Who watches your pet if you are going to be away?

Chances are, one of the people you thought of is not part of your conventional family. Maybe a neighbor is more involved in your day to day life than your child. Maybe your high school friend from far away knows what you want for medical care better than someone nearby. Maybe your 18-year-old grandson is truly calm in a crisis. No worries! Better off to identify someone to be in charge. They will likely not be alone. They will reach out and check in with others for the harder decisions. The sole point is to make a choice – any choice – so that fewer people suffer when no choice was made.

Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or [email protected] and www.colonyretirementhomes.com.