‘I have prepared for my death’: Tutu on assisted dying

Towards the end of his life, he began a new campaign in support of the assisted dying movement — a hugely sensitive subject in his Anglican Church

South African anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu, described as the country’s moral compass, died on December 26, 2021, aged 90, President Cyril Ramaphosa said.

By AFP, Johannesburg

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who died Sunday at the age of 90, was the moral compass of his beloved “Rainbow Nation”, never afraid to speak truth to power, whatever its creed or colour.

A tireless activist, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for combatting white minority rule in his country.

“The passing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement.

Famously outspoken, even after the fall of the racist apartheid regime, Tutu never shied away from confronting South Africa’s shortcomings or injustices.

“It’s a great privilege, it’s a great honour that people think that maybe your name can make a small difference,” he told AFP shortly before his 80th birthday in 2011.

Whether taking on his church over gay rights, lobbying for Palestinian statehood or calling out South Africa’s ruling African National Congress on corruption, his high-profile campaigns were thorny and often unwelcome.

None at the top were spared — not even his close friend, late president Nelson Mandela, with whom Tutu sparred in 1994 over what he called the ANC’s “gravy train mentality”.

Yet “the Arch” brought an exuberant playfulness to all his endeavours.

Quick to crack jokes — often at his own expense — he was always ready to dance and laugh uproariously with an infectious cackle that became his trademark.

It was Tutu who coined and popularised the term “Rainbow Nation” to describe South Africa when Mandela became president.

At the time, Tutu was serving as the first black Anglican archbishop of Cape Town.

Ordained at the age of 30 and appointed archbishop in 1986, he used his position to advocate for international sanctions against apartheid, and later to lobby for rights globally.

Along the way, he won a host of admirers.

“I believe that God is waiting for the archbishop. He is waiting to welcome Desmond Tutu with open arms,” said Mandela, who stayed at Tutu’s home on his first night of freedom in 1990, after 27 years in apartheid jails.

“If Desmond gets to heaven and is denied entry, then none of the rest of us will get in!”

The Dalai Lama called Tutu his “spiritual older brother”.

Irish activist and pop star Bob Geldof praised him as “a complete pain in the arse” for those in power, and US President Barack Obama hailed him as “a moral titan”.

Among Tutu’s critics were Zimbabwe’s veteran former president Robert Mugabe, who described him as an “evil and embittered little bishop”.

Even with his global celebrity, his faith remained an integral part of his life.

His family’s road trips included quiet time for prayers, and his missives blasting the evils of apartheid were signed off with “God bless you”.

“I developed tremendous respect for his fearlessness. It wasn’t fearlessness of a wild kind. It was fearlessness anchored in his deep faith in God,” said apartheid’s last leader, F.W. de Klerk.

Tutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 and underwent repeated treatment.

He had retired a year earlier to lead a harrowing journey into South Africa’s brutal past, as head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

For 30 months, the commission lifted the lid on the horrors of apartheid.

Tutu, with his instinctive humanity, broke down and sobbed at one of its first hearings.

A recipient of numerous awards, his causes ranged from child marriage to Tibet to calls for Western leaders to be tried over the Iraq war, and in later year for the right-to-die.

He also swore he would never worship a homophobic God.

“I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place,” he said.

Born in the small town of Klerksdorp, west of Johannesburg, on October 7, 1931, Tutu was the son of a domestic worker and a school teacher.

Following in his father’s footsteps, he trained as a teacher before anger at the inferior education system set up for black children prompted him to become a priest.

He lived for a while in Britain, where, he recalled, he would needlessly ask for directions just to be called “Sir” by a white policeman.

Tutu believed firmly in the reconciliation of black and white South Africans.

“I am walking on clouds. It is an incredible feeling, like falling in love. We South Africans are going to be the Rainbow People of the world,” he said in 1994.

But post-apartheid South Africa increasingly became a source of his despair, as the high hopes of the early days of democracy gave way to disillusionment over violence, inequality and graft.

Never a member of the ANC, Tutu said in 2013 that he would no longer vote for the party, though President Cyril Ramaphosa — an old friend — re-built bridges after coming to power in 2018.

Tutu made a rare public appearance in May 2021 to receive his vaccine for Covid-19. He appeared outside of hospital in a wheelchair, and waved but did not speak.

He married his wife Leah in 1955. They had four children.

ePOLST Registries: Moving into the Digital Age

Providers should be aware of and be involved in the conversation about these upcoming registries as they will interact with them frequently.

The upper half of the California POLST.

By ,

You arrive on scene to a call of a 72-year-old woman with metastatic lung cancer who has difficulty breathing at her nursing facility. The woman is unresponsive and thready pulses become difficult to palpate. The nursing facility staff is unable to locate any paper POLST forms. What are your next steps?

The POLST program – Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining treatment – was developed by medical ethicists in Oregon in 1991 as a tool to help honor patients’ wishes for end-of-life treatment.1 Today, all 50 states and Washington, DC, have existing POLST programs with varying functional capacities and names for the actual form (i.e. Medical Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (MOLST), Physician Order for Scope of Treatment (POST) etc.). POLST forms are most useful for people who are medically frail or seriously ill from chronic, progressive health conditions. They contain important, actionable medical orders that are portable for use across health settings – such as emergency medical services (EMS), emergency departments and long-term care facilities.

Several studies have demonstrated the efficacy of POLST forms over the years. POLST forms have been shown to have significant advantages over traditional methods to communicate preferences regarding life-sustaining treatments,2 and their use has been shown to result in a very high percentage of patients receiving care consistent with their prior expressed wishes.3 However, their use is not without barriers. One key barrier can be their inaccessibility. The form, if not readily available to health care providers, isn’t helpful in time-critical situations. A 2004 survey of Oregon EMTs showed a quarter of respondents stated that they were unable to successfully find a POLST in a timely manner the last time they had expected to do so.4 In 2009, Oregon legislation introduced an electronic POLST registry. This was to address EMS challenges in accessing or locating original POLST orders when they arrived on the scene of a medical emergency. By 2015-2016, nearly half of all deaths in Oregon had an active form in their electronic registry.5 As of 2020, the Oregon Registry has almost half a million POLST forms.6

California’s Assembly Bill No. 1234 was introduced by Assembly Member Arambula (D-Fresno) in February 2021 and would require the California Health and Human Services Agency to establish a statewide electronic POLST registry system.7 It is being backed by the Coalition for Compassionate Care of California (CCCC) and Arambula, himself, is a prior emergency physician. In addition to creation of a statewide registry, the bill lays out a timeline for its implementation (2024-2026), ensures that an electronic POLST (ePOLST) would have the same legal standing as a paper form, and that electronic signatures could be used.

As of 2020, at least 10 states have started development of or already created statewide registries.8 Some registries have capability for electronic form completion, some function simply as databases, and others have a hybrid system. Input from pilot studies that have been performed in San Diego and Contra Costa County along with experiences with ePOLST registries from other states are helping shape what California’s statewide registry will eventually look like.

The current progress of POLST state registries as of April 2021.
The current progress of POLST state registries as of April 2021.

ePOLST registries have several advantages over the traditional POLST. The main advantage being their universal accessibility by healthcare providers and patients. Other potential advantages include the ability to provide educational material to patients at time of form completion, development of mechanisms to prevent incomplete or incongruent (i.e. Full Code + Do Not Intubate) form submissions,9 and remote signing. However, there are several potential pitfalls to be mindful of – such as assuring the repositories are HIPPA-compliant, easily searchable, interface with local health information exchanges, and have back-up mechanisms for access (i.e. call center) in case of technology failure.

EMS will be at the forefront of interfacing with these registries and as such should be involved in the conversation regarding their development. Properly developed and implemented, a state-wide ePOLST has the opportunity to improve EMS and emergency departments provider POLST access difficulties, facilitate accurate POLST completion, and improve our ability to provide patient’s with the care they want near the end-of-life.

References

  1. National POLST: History [Internet]. Washington DC: National POLST; c2017-2021. [cited 2021, Nov 3]. Available from: https://polst.org/history/
  2. Hickman SE, Nelson CA, Perrin NA, Moss AH, Hammes BJ, Tolle SW. A comparison of methods to communicate treatment preferences in nursing facilities: traditional practices versus the physician orders for life-sustaining treatment program. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2010 Jul;58(7):1241-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.02955.x. PMID: 20649687; PMCID: PMC2963454.
  3. Hopping-Winn J, Mullin J, March L, Caughey M, Stern M, Jarvie J. The Progression of End-of-Life Wishes and Concordance with End-of-Life Care. J Palliat Med. 2018 Apr;21(4):541-545. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2017.0317. Epub 2018 Jan 3. PMID: 29298109.
  4. Zive DM, Schmidt TA. Pathways to POLST registry development: Lessons learned. Portland, OR: Center for Ethics in Health Care Oregon Health & Science University. 2012.
  5. Dotson A, Broderick A, Steinmetz V, Weir J, Anthony S. (2019) California’s POLST electronic registry pilot: Lessons for all states. Oakland, CA: California Health Care Foundation. Available from: https://www.chcf.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/CaliforniasPOLSTElectronicRegistryPilot.pdf
  6. Dotson, A. (2020). Oregon POLST registry annual report. Portland, Oregon: Oregon POLST Registry. Available from: https://orpolstregistry.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/2020-oregon-polst-registry-annual-report.pdf
  7. Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment forms: registry, Cal. Assemb. B. 1234 (2021-2022)
  8. National POLST: Registry Information [Internet]. Washington DC: National POLST; c2017-2021. [cited 2021, Nov 3]. Available from: https://polst.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/2021.03-National-POLST-Registries-Matrix.pdf
  9. POLST California: POLST eRegistry in California: Challenges and opportunities [Internet]. Sacramento: Coalition for compassionate care of California; c2021. [cited 2021, Nov 3]. Available from: https://capolst.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/POLST-INTERVIEW-REPORT_11-22-19.pdf

Complete Article HERE!

Body farms, human composting, conservation cemeteries: Why I wanted to create a better plan for my end-of-life directive

Leaving a legacy that ensures a sustainable earth for our loved ones and our communities.

By Mallory McDuff

When I was in middle school, my father built a prototype of a pine casket, which fit in the palm of his hand, the wood sanded smooth to the touch. My mother kept her jewelry in the box, which sat on her dresser for years.

“My funeral should be a celebration of life, and I’d like to be buried without embalming or a concrete vault,” my dad told us. “I hope to build my own casket like this before I die.”

At the time, his plans for death felt like background noise, the idiosyncrasies of a parent in a teenager’s eyes.

Then, in my late 30s, my parents died in mirror-image cycling accidents, hit by teen drivers on rural Alabama roads, two years apart. My three siblings and I managed to fulfill my father’s wishes, which gave us a way forward through our shock and then grief.

Fast forward to my 50s, with teenagers of my own: I’d been invited to share the story of my father’s green burial at a conference to help others plan ahead for their own deaths. I looked out at 100 people gathered in the parish hall of my Episcopal church, the Cathedral of All Souls, in Asheville, N.C.

Yet the conference soon revealed I had work of my own to do on this very topic of life and death.

During a session about end-of-life directives, a close friend whispered to me, “I need to revise my will since my ex is still in it!”

My final wishes didn’t align with my values

I hadn’t looked at my final documents since I’d drafted them 10 years earlier, after my own divorce and my parents’ passing. As the workshops and breakout groups proceeded, my face became flushed: I’d chosen cremation for its affordability and convenience — as straightforward as calling in and picking up a prescription.

My final wishes didn’t align with my values as an environmental educator or the example my father had given me.

One of the presentations focused on home funerals, keeping a vigil for the deceased at home, rather than taking the body directly to a mortuary.

Discovering a conservation cemetery

“No state law requires embalming,” Yongue said. “And it’s legal to transport a body in your car.”

She shared heartbreaking, but intimate, images of a teenage girl in a white dress helping carry the shrouded body of her mother to the gravesite at Carolina Memorial Sanctuary, a conservation cemetery which Younge founded that protects the land in perpetuity through conservation easements.

I’d walked the land at this burial ground, which felt like strolling in a wooded preserve, rather than a manicured lawn, as the graves are surrounded by native grasses, trees and shrubs.

I turned to the friend next to me. Our oldest daughters, now in college, had gone to preschool together. Her eyes, much like mine, were filled with tears.

During my session, I described how my father discovered that his neighborhood cemetery in Fairhope, Ala., didn’t require a concrete vault in the grave. One month after my mother was killed, my dad read to us a two-page typed document outlining details for his future funeral — like his bluegrass band at the burial and plenty of shovels so that young and old could close the grave.

He was in the best shape of his life, but wanted us to have a plan. When he was killed two years later (despite biking with a fluorescent vest and reflective lights on the shoulder of the road), we followed his wishes for a burial that restored, rather than degraded, the Earth.

“My sister and I are likely the only graduates of Fairhope High School who’ve prepared our father’s body for burial in the refrigerated room of the local funeral home,” I told the audience.

My dad’s body had been transferred to the coroner’s office and then the mortuary. Yet the funeral home director agreed to let us wrap him in my mother’s linens, according to his plan, and place his body in a handcrafted pine casket, constructed by a friend who pulled an all-nighter for the job.

Providing a plan for my final wishes

After listening to the other speakers at the conference, I wanted to provide the same type of plan for my two daughters, 22 and 15, who seemed more comfortable with emergency-room resuscitations on “Grey’s Anatomy” than talking about our own mortality. But as a single mom, I knew this journey would need to include them both, even if they weren’t ready to fully listen.

When I returned home that night, I opened the file cabinet in my bedroom and took out the folder containing my will, cremation directive and advance care directive. My final wishes for cremation didn’t seem to fit me in my 50s, given my children’s uncertain future in a climate emergency.

I’d completely forgotten my instructions for a party after my funeral with beer and barbecue from Okie Dokie’s Smokehouse, a restaurant I loved when my young children needed a quick dinner on a school night. (Per the menu, it offered “swine dining.”)

Since the conference, I’d learned about alternatives to burning fossil fuels to cremate a body into pulverized bones and ashes. While more than 50% of people in the U.S. opt for flame cremation, I’d heard about aquamation—also called alkaline hydrolysis—that uses water and lye to dissolve a body, rather than fossil fuels, and is legal in 20 states.

I’d also read about a “body farm” only an hour away at Western Carolina University, where you could donate your body to contribute to research on decomposition without the embalming required by medical science. The research at this body farm had contributed to the innovative process called human composting, which transforms a body into nutrient-rich soil, now legal in Washington state and Colorado. I wanted to know more.

That night, I decided to embark on a one-year journey to revise my final wishes with climate and community in mind. My directives for my body would have to be affordable and acceptable to my daughters.

During the year, I’d end up discovering a cemetery on the college campus where I live, attending home funerals, interviewing end-of-life doulas, volunteering as a parking attendant at the conservation cemetery and talking to my daughters about the end of our lives, just as my father did with me. My book, “Our Last Best Act: Planning for the End of Our Lives to Protect the People and Places We Love,” tells of that yearlong research.

When I told my youngest about the possibility of a home vigil after I died, she was not amused. “I will sleep in a Motel 6 if that happens,” she said. “I can pay for it myself!”

In that moment, I saw myself — a teenager rolling my eyes as my father handed me a smooth pine casket to hold in my palm — not knowing what tools I’d need to equip me for the years ahead.

I didn’t anticipate my parents’ deaths or the climate crisis we now face. But I have learned from this search that final wishes are an individual decision, a family decision and an ecological decision, with personal stakes affecting both climate and community.

It’s not a metaphor to say we are all one body on this planet. As my father said, “I want a funeral that involves my family and my friends without harm to the Earth.”

Complete Article HERE!

‘Conversations with those dying are some of the most privileged I have had’

by Matthew Townsend

We are born. We live. We die. That said then, death is the only event in life of which we can be certain: an event that, it could be argued, is implicitly linked to life itself. Without life, there can be no death yet, in order to live, so too must we realise that we will, eventually, die.

The thought of death and dying often provokes discomfort and is a conversation that many prefer not to have. When people ask me what my clinical interests are, my passion for end-of-life care is often greeted with an uncomfortable silence. And for very good reason.

“Should we enjoy these conversations with our patients and their families?”

As Vanderveken et al (2019) observe we, as a species, are both hesitant and reluctant to talk about death. It brings into our conscious stream of thought the very thing that we often consciously attempt to avoid: the reality of our finite existence.

This is confirmed by Doughty (2017) who has coined the phrase ‘death avoidance’ to define the process via which someone refuses to engage in anything to do with death or dying.

Often, such thoughts can provoke death anxiety; a psychophysiological response in reaction to contemplating one’s own finitude or threat to one’s existence.

This is considered in research carried out by Fernandez-Dona ire et al (2019) who report that death anxiety can manifest as panic, fear, upset, and physiologic malaise.

Avoiding these conversations, and the necessary reflection and contemplation that accompanies them, has resulted in the end of life being a chapter of our existence shrouded in taboo and forcibly pushed to the back of our minds.

If we consider our life as a story, the closing chapter is one we shy away from reading, even though it is a necessary one in order to sign the book off as complete.

The fear prompted by the thought of death has not simply resulted in an avoidance of it as a topic: a conscious repression of our fears and anxiety has translated into an almost insurmountable problem.

The harsh reality is though, whether or not we choose to admit, we will, eventually die and, in fact, based upon my experiences in clinical practice, is something rarely feared by those living at the end of their lives.

Through my nursing career so far, I have been privileged to sit at the bedside of many people who are approaching the end of their lives: they may have a chronic condition with no trajected end point or are coming to the end of a terminal illness, with only a matter of days or hours left.

Whether the former or the latter, there has often been a common thread between the two: a beautiful, almost existential, peace. Rarely fear. Rarely panic.

But instead, an inspiring positivity and solemnity that confirms to me that the fear we burden ourselves with through the course of our lives can restrict us in our living and is, in any case, unfounded.

This considered then, how can we condition ourselves to not fear the end of life, and how can we approach death with a positivity that seems almost incongruous with its finite state?

Many of the conversations I have had with those at the end of their lives echo research in the field that regards spirituality as an important aspect of end-of-life care with its acknowledgement significantly reducing fears and anxieties (lnbadas, 2018).

That said, let us not confuse spirituality with religiosity. As Tornoe et al (2017) note, spirituality focuses on factors such as relationships, meaningfulness of life, and feelings of self-worth.

Indeed, the World Health Organization (2017) positions the construct of spirituality central to its definition of quality of life, not only recognising it as key, but acknowledging that it becomes more prevalent as one approaches the end of one’s life.

Reading the WHO’s definition of quality-of-life alongside definitions of spirituality, it can be seen how a good quality of life can necessarily translate to a good quality of death.

“I recall with great fondness when I heard roars of laughter from his side-room”

To live in recognition and acknowledgement of death as opposed to in its shadow, will help us remove this taboo and will ultimately improve our relationship with it.

This reinforces my earlier observation: life is inextricably linked to death and to discount the latter negatively impacts the former.

As Lemaster and Moyer (2020) note, our lived experiences and the extent to which we feel we have lived full and meaningful lives removes fear and anxiety of end-of-life issues.

Embracing life will aid us in not just enjoying it but in ensuring that this enjoyment will help remove the fear of death.

Conversations I have had with those who are dying are some of the most privileged and enjoyable I have had in my career.

When I admit this to my family, friends and work colleagues, I am met with the same uncomfortable silence as when people ask me what my clinical interests are. An awkwardness possibly precipitated by using the words ‘enjoyment’ and ‘death’ in the same sentence.

Should we enjoy these conversations with our patients and their families? Should we approach death with a positive optimism?

My answer: absolutely. To acknowledge that someone is dying is not a sign of failure. To acknowledge that someone is dying will not hasten your own death. To acknowledge that death forms an integral part of life should not invoke fear.

Conversely, it should be embraced. It is, after all, our final accomplishment. Conversations I have had are filled with fond memories and often bursting with smiles, happiness, and celebratory nostalgia.

I have recently helped nurse a patient who was at the end of their terminal illness. A similar age to myself, it was a particularly sobering experience. Young people are not supposed to die: it goes against what we are told is the natural order.

We are born, we live, we die and we hope that this last chapter is one that is written many years in the future. Anything that digresses from this catches us off-guard.

Following my patient’s admission to the ward, I soon noticed a common behaviour: an avoidance of talking to him about his death.

Research has shown that nurses are notoriously bad at actively engaging with death (Anderson et al, 2016).

Let us not be too harsh though: we are, after all, only human and to have to deal with it forces us to face our own mortality. That said, my patient was facing his and I was determined that he would not face it alone.

“If we consider our life as a story, the closing chapter is one we shy away from reading”

Over the next few days, we built a strong nurse-patient relationship where we discussed all manner of things.

There were sad moments, but also moments where we both heartedly laughed at, for example, his bucket list and that, in his words, how he was “going to kick the bucket before ticking items off it”.

Through the course of our conversations, there was again a notable absence: fear. He was not afraid of dying, merely sad that he could not have lived a little longer.

This was the significant difference. He also noted that the fact I spoke with him so openly about his death was “refreshing” and “reassuring”.

I recall with great fondness when I heard roars of laughter from his side-room. His mother emerged with an empty teapot and tears in her eyes. Happy tears? Sad tears? A combination of the two? “Are we being too loud?” she asked.

I smiled and shook my head. “Be as loud as you want to be,” I replied. When I checked my patient later, the room was filled with laughter; it was filled with love; it was filled with happiness.

Family and friends had come together to acknowledge what was inevitably happening and to celebrate his life. Fear was nowhere to be seen. Fear would have been out of place. When my patient died, his mother thanked me.

She noted that my positive approach to her son’s death not only helped him, but that she no longer feared death and that she had not realised how simple it was to die.

This woman had witnessed what it actually meant to die and that death is, in fact, usually an incredibly peaceful event.

Kathryn Mannix’s (2015) book, With the End in Mind, aims to remove the taboo of dying and to bring conversations about it into our lived experience.

The observations of my patient’s mother are reinforced in Mannix’s work. As Mannix notes, death, if well managed, is often painless, peaceful and, dare I say, an uncomplicated process?

Significantly, to live in acknowledgement of death is to not live in its shadow. Birth and death are inextricably linked, just sat at different ends of the spectrum of life. We cannot have one without the other.

That said then, to live in fear of death would be a disservice to life. Enjoying life, while simultaneously acknowledging death, will ensure that when the time comes, we approach it not seeing it as something to fear, but instead as a celebration of life.

Complete Article HERE!

Apple now lets you pick someone to inherit your data when you die

by

A feature included in Apple’s latest iPhone update is something you probably don’t want to think about: who gets access to your phone if (or should we say when?) you die.

The change to Apple’s “Digital Legacy” feature is included in iOS 15.2. Now, you can designate contacts who will have access to your accounts when you pass away.

Those loved ones will have access to your photos, text messages, notes, apps and more. Certain things like payment information and passwords won’t be accessible, says Apple.

You can designate up to five loved ones as legacy contacts. You’ll be given an access code that you should put with the rest of your estate planning information. Eventually, one of your legacy contacts can present that access code and a death certificate to Apple to obtain access to your accounts.

Legacy contacts verified by the company will have access to the account for three years. At that time, the account will be permanently deleted, Apple says.

Here’s how to designate a legacy contact:

  1. Go to Settings on your iPhone and click your name at the top.
  2. Tap “Password & Security,” then “Legacy Contact.”
  3. Designate up to five contacts as legacy contacts.
  4. Print and save the access code. Your contacts will need this and your death certificate to gain access.

Apple has more information about how to request access to a deceased loved one’s account here.

Complete Article HERE!

‘I Would Give Anything to Hold Their Hands Again’

A husband and wife find a way to talk to their young sons about an unspeakable event.

By Jessica Alexander

It could have been any January day — the air crisp, the sky clear. But that morning in Tokyo, where we lived then, I awoke with the same heaviness I have felt on this day since meeting my husband, Andy, nearly eight years before.

He was already out for a jog.

I pulled our 4-year-old twin boys out of bed, opened a box of crayons and told them we were going to make daddy a card. They didn’t ask why, and I didn’t tell them that it was so he would feel our warmth and affection on this day, the anniversary of the worst day of his life. They drew colorful hearts, and I wrote “We Love You” in big letters.

When Andy returned, one of our boys ran to the door, arm outstretched, proudly handing him our creation.

“Thanks guys,” Andy said with a smile, his eyes asking me: What is this for?

“Because it’s today,” I said.

“What’s today?” he asked, wiping the sweat from his forehead.

“Today. You know — ”

It hit him: This was the day that his first wife and two sons died in the Haiti earthquake 10 years earlier. His body deflated, and his face, still bright from his run, crumpled.

Then the texts began: “Thinking about you.” “Sending love.” With every buzz of his phone, he would look at me with a pleading face, as if to say: “How could all these people remember, except me?”

Of course, he never forgets. He tells me they are with him every day; I imagine their memories like a heavy blanket wrapped around his heart, keeping him warm and grounded.

He rationalized that his slip of the mind that day honored who they were, because they wouldn’t want him to still tear up at the sound of children’s laughter, to still be vacillating between sorrow, anger and emptiness.

“Forgetting” also meant he was present in a way that was once unimaginable — waking up without dread, going for a carefree run, sitting down for toast and eggs with his family.

Our boys didn’t know about Andy’s past. He and I met two years after the earthquake when our work overlapped. In time, Andy and I fell in love, married and had twin sons. As the boys turned 3, then 4, I found myself searching online, “What is the right age to talk to children about death?”

I wondered when they would ask about the other two boys in framed photos on our bookshelves or recognize them on their grandmother’s refrigerator — the pictures that didn’t change with each new baseball season or dance recital like those of the other grandchildren. Those two faces never grow up.

When I looked at my sons — at their baby teeth smiles and wrists still pudgy with baby fat — I could only guess at who they would be years from now. Andy often wondered the same about his first boys. One recent August marked when the eldest, Evan, would have turned 18. Would he be headed off to college? How would his voice sound?

That August afternoon, we had just finished eating lunch next to a lake near our home when Andy turned to me and said, “I’m going to tell them.”

I felt anxious, not knowing how the boys would take it, but also reassured by Andy’s calm. We got up and started walking along the edge of the lake when Andy stopped and said, “Boys, I have something to tell you.”

They loved his stories and ran to him, each grabbing a hand.

“Many years ago,” he said, “when I was working in a country called Haiti, I lived with my two sons and their mom. My sons were just about your age — Baptiste was almost 5, and Evan was 7. Today is Evan’s birthday actually; he would have been 18. One day, there was a big earthquake.” He explained what an earthquake was, tectonic plates and all. “I was at work and Evan, Baptiste and their mom, Laurence, my wife before your mommy, were at home.”

When the shaking started, Andy explained, they couldn’t make it out of the building before it collapsed, and the three of them died.

I tensed to see if the boys would be scared or surprised, or if it would even register.

“What does collapse mean?” one asked.

“Look there’s a fish!” said the other, pointing.

Andy carefully answered all their questions, then took a deep breath and said, “Let’s go for a swim.”

We put on bathing suits and hopped into the cold water, the boys splashing behind rocks and laughing. They didn’t seem to absorb the gravity of the loss, or how brave their father was. It probably struck them as just another story.

Back home, we took the photos of Evan, Baptiste and Laurence from our shelves, introducing the boys to the faces they had always seen around the apartment. In the coming weeks, Andy shared details about them that I realized he had been carrying alone this whole time.

Soon Andy began working memories of his first family into our everyday lives. “Evan and Baptiste loved this book,” he would say before settling in for a bedtime story that he had read our boys countless times. Or as we gathered on the couch to watch a movie, he would tell us that this was Evan and Baptiste’s favorite.

“Did they get scared too?” one of the twins asked.

“Sure they did.”

One summer evening as we walked home from the park, the boys tugged excitedly at our hands, pulling us this way and that, until Andy pulled his hand away from their incessant yanking. Then he immediately flinched and put his hand out again, later saying to me, “I get so mad at myself for doing that.”

“Why?”

“Because I would give anything to hold their hands again.”

As in that instance, I sometimes overlook how his interactions with us are shaped by regret over things he wishes he had done differently, and his sorrow over things he wishes he still could do. But they are also shaped by the realization that today he has another chance.

I often think about Andy’s former wife — I am older than she was when she died at 40 — and how she was robbed of so much life. It shouldn’t have surprised me when the boys did the same about their half brothers.

After losing his first tooth, one of the twins asked, “Did Baptiste ever lose a tooth?” And they would tell their friends over lunch about how Evan pronounced butter “buller.” When they turned 5, they wanted to know if Baptiste ever had a 5th birthday party, and they began asking more often for details about what happened, trying to understand. But so much of what happened isn’t understandable.

“Why did your house break, Daddy?”

“Why were they at home and you weren’t?”

“Why didn’t your office fall down?”

These questions had haunted Andy for years, but when they come from the mouths of his innocently curious children, he tells me that he can face them more easily, which has helped relieve his lingering guilt. One day they may ask about his despair, and perhaps he will explain the many dimensions of his grief. For now, getting through the facts is enough.

One morning after one of the boys’ friends slept over, we all sat down for pancakes when the friend noticed a framed picture of Evan and Baptiste on a seesaw and said, “When were you there?”

“That’s not us,” one of the twins said. “That’s Daddy’s other sons, Evan and Baptiste. They died in the earthquake in Haiti when their building fell on them.”

“Oh, like when the bear got smushed by the rocks in that cartoon,” the friend said. He was only 5 — what other reference could he possibly have?

“It’s not a cartoon,” our son said. “It was real. And it’s not funny.”

I had thought the gravity was lost on him and his brother, but he understood. And for the first time, Andy didn’t have to take a deep breath and muster the strength to tell the story yet again. His son had done it for him.

This year, the night before the earthquake anniversary, Andy was feeling low, his attention elsewhere while cooking dinner.

“What’s wrong, Daddy?” asked our older twin.

“Tomorrow is the anniversary of the earthquake,” he said. “So I’m thinking of Baptiste, Evan and Laurence.”

“Tomorrow there will be an earthquake?”

“No baby, tomorrow’s just the anniversary. And I’m sad.”

“Oh,” our son said, then quickly added, “But lucky too, Daddy.”

Andy looked up. “Lucky?”

“Lucky you found us.” His voice was high and his head tilted, as if asking.

Andy looked at me with disbelief. Our boy might not have understood the meaning of an anniversary, but he could comprehend the idea of renewal.

Andy scooped him up in his arms. “Yes, my boy,” he said. “I am the luckiest.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pandemic Ignites Millennials to Focus on End-of-Life Planning

Group portrait of a creative business team standing outdoors, three quarter length, close up

by Jackie Lam

As the coronavirus pandemic increased anxiety and upended many lives, it led U.S. millennials to get more serious about end-of-life planning.

According to new research from 1Password, a digital security and privacy platform based in Toronto, and digital estate planning platform partners Trust & Will and Willful, 72% of U.S. millennials (ages 25 to 40) with wills created them or updated them in the past year.

In addition, 34% of these millennials have talked about their digital assets with their parents in the past year.

More than two-thirds of millennials don’t have a will

While the pandemic brought greater focus to end-of-life planning among millennials, they’re still largely unprepared. According to the 1Password findings, 68% of millennials don’t have a will.

In turn, respondents estimate descendants would lose access to an average of $22,500. Plus, only 38% have clarity over who should handle their digital assets after they die.

Among those who do have a will, here’s what sparked it:

  • COVID-19 crisis (55%)
  • Having a child (36%)
  • Death of a celebrity or public figure (22%)
  • Buying a house (17%)

With a digital handover, the top priority for respondents is giving their executor login credentials to banking and financial accounts (67%). Interestingly, 57% of millennial respondents say granting access to social media accounts is more important than giving access to email, subscription and e-commerce accounts.

The pandemic provided a wake-up call for millennials and their end-of-life planning, no doubt. But there are some areas of estate planning that are murky. And it’s not just about the respondents themselves.

The survey finds 51% of millennials will be responsible for the execution of their parents’ wills. However, just 36% have access to their parents’ online account passwords.

While we already noted that 34% of respondents say they’ve chatted with their parents about their digital assets in the past year, 52% have never discussed it with their parents or can’t recall the conversation. Among those who have handled the execution of wills, 63% say it was more challenging than expected to access accounts after a death.

Millennials use old-fashioned ways to store documents

Old-school ways of handling important documents reign supreme among the millennial crowd. More than 4 in 5 (81%) report keeping paperwork — think birth certificate — in a physical location like a safe deposit box, safe or filing cabinet.

They share their passwords mainly by way of a written list (41%), then verbally (39%) and digitally (25%), such as through email, Google Docs, the cloud or a PDF.

As for storing passwords, 51% say they store their passwords by memory, while 25% keep them on a piece of paper. One in 5 (20%) millennials say they use a password manager.

The report also found that 48% of millennials trust their significant others the most for emergency access to their passwords, more than twice as much as their second choice — their parents (20%).

If you’re prioritizing end-of-life planning, decide who will be granted access to your digital accounts and online passwords and list out all your debts. This might include:

If you need help managing credit card debt, consider working with a financial counselor or credit counseling agency.

Complete Article HERE!