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Preparing For Death While Embracing Life

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The process of dying begins at birth. Each of us know that someday we will die, but we don't generally like to think or talk about it. The topic of death is often taboo in our society. Because of this, we are often unprepared when we are faced with the final stages of the dying process with someone we love.

Attitudes and concepts about death and dying vary greatly. Death refers to the actual physical ending of life, while dying refers to the process of coming to that end. Most people do not simply stop breathing. It is often a slow, lingering, unwinding process that can take days, weeks, or months. Even the actively dying process can occur over a period of hours or days. Observing this process can be extremely difficult for loved ones.

Some people experience the symptoms of being close to death and then, for some unexplained reason their condition may begin to improve a little. The family's hopes soar, only to be dashed again, as the loved one's condition deteriorates. These roller-coaster changes can be emotionally and physically exhausting for caregivers.

Most of the fear of death is really fear of the unknown. Education and open discussion about the events that will occur can relieve much of the fear patients and families experience. Each death is different, a touching and special drama, just as each birth is. And usually the act of dying requires some assistance, just as the act of giving birth does.

Because each person's death is unique, it is difficult to state exactly what will happen in each situation. This particular period of time is one of the most difficult times you and your family will experience.

Some people believe that preparing for a death is the most difficult part of losing a loved one. Friends and family members may feel helpless as their loved one comes closer to death. Fear of the inevitable, sorrow, and anticipating the grief to come are common and can be completely exhausting.

Many people who have a serious illness may anticipate their own passing and experience a range of emotions as well. A grief counselor can help an ill person work to resolve issues and, perhaps, achieve a level of peace with the inevitable.

On a more practical note, there are issues that can be resolved during the period of physical decline that may lead to greater peace of mind. The person's will should be drawn up or updated and any other personal matters organized.

While the questions may sound morbid, they are decisions that will have to be made eventually. Knowing the preferences of the deceased may make preparing for the memorial service easier for surviving family members and friends. In addition, the person should discuss what he or she desires for his or her funeral and burial service with his family to ensure all are comfortable with the person's wishes.


A guardian is a person who can make legal, financial, and health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated or incompetent and can no longer make these decisions for yourself. A guardian can be any competent person, a spouse, a friend, a relative, a non-profit agency, or a public or private corporation. If a person is considered incompetent and a relative, agency, or corporation cannot be found or considered as a guardian, then a public agent guardian will be appointed.

Guardianship is referred to, in some states, as custodianship or curatorship. In each case the guardian may be called a custodian or curator. The person whom the guardian is appointed to is called the "ward".

Guardians have the authority to:

Ш Decide on the ward's living arrangements

Ш See that good health care is provided to the ward

Ш Give consent or approval of needed services (medical, dental, legal, etc.) for the ward

Ш Take care of the ward's personal belongings

Ш Take legal protective action of the ward

Ш Handle the ward's personal finances

Ш Maintain the ward's personal records

There are two types of guardianship:

Ш Guardianship of the Person -- The guardian may provide for medical care services and determine the place and kind of residential setting best suited for the ward. The guardian must also present a detailed plan of the ward's care to the court every year for review.

Ш Guardianship of the Property -- The guardian takes an inventory of the ward's property, invests it prudently, uses it for the ward's support, and accounts for it by providing detailed annual reports with the court. In addition, the guardian must obtain court approval for certain financial transactions.

In most cases one guardian is appointed to cover all responsibilities -- both the ward's property and health care.

If you chose to elect a guardian, either of the person or property or both, you may order it for limited time periods and for limited purposes. This is generally only the case for individuals who request a guardian while they are still competent. Most often guardianship is the last resort for people who are incompetent and can no longer do things for themselves. In these cases, guardianship is in place for the remainder of the ward's life.

If you recover or your condition is not permanent, your case will be reviewed by the court to make sure that you are fit enough to handle your own affairs. In this case, you may be able to regain control over some or all of the decisions surrounding your finances, health care, and other aspects of daily living.

Because guardianship is so limited, you should always consider it as a last resort. However, if you haven't made plans to safeguard your finances, health care, or legal issues and you become incapacitated, guardianship is one of the few alternatives to ensure your well being. Some community groups and local hospitals provide support and offer help with medical care or financial management, or make referrals to other places that can help.

Living Wills

Living wills, sometimes called Advanced Directives, are legal documents accepted in all 50 states. They clearly define your beliefs and wishes regarding the type of treatment you would prefer if you were to become terminally ill or if death were imminent and you were not able to communicate your wishes yourself. Living wills help the physician and the family maintain the patient's wishes



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