The Heart and Valentine’s Day from an Estate Planner’s Perspective


                      “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

― Viktor Frankl

Valentine’s Day is all about love, chocolates, flowers, etc., but I won’t get into any of its historical (or commercial) origins.  What has happened to the entire month of February, thanks to Valentine’s Day, is that there is a focus on the heart for the entire month.  The heart as in that blood-pumping organ that keeps us alive. . . . Yes,  the Centers for Disease Control have declared February American Heart Month, an opportunity to increase awareness about heart disease and its prevention. My personal favorites in this regard are dark chocolate and red wine, but don’t get me started on chocolate.  The American Heart Association has a particularly helpful page for women to recognize signs of a heart attack.  The symptoms for women are qualitatively different from those of men.  Okay, so if we’re talking about the heart, we’re not far off from the life-sustaining liquid it pumps throughout our body: blood.  February is also blood donation month.  Really – you can confirm it here.   If you are interested in donating blood, Bonfils Blood Center has several locations throughout the metro area, making it easy to donate. You can go on their website to determine your eligibility and where to donate.  Okay, so what does any of this have to do with estate planning?

Taking care of yourself through healthy diet, exercise and those sorts of things generally play out into better quality of life. And donating blood means making a contribution of  life-sustaining and life-saving blood to unknown community members.  Both are good for the heart and make us feel better.  I think the same can be said about living on purpose and making plans for incapacity (a certain uncertainty) and death (an uncertain certainty).  Having the “difficult conversation” about your health care choices and wishes – in the event you are unable to communicate or are incapacitated – can help inform the person planning as well as their loved ones about what is important in life.  In last week’s vlog post I talked a bit about the process of deciding and some of the resources available.  A primary reason I focus my law and mediation practice in estate and elder law is to help defy the taboo of talking about death.  Death is part of life, and just as a life has meaning, so can death.

“A good death does honor to a whole life.”

                                             ― Petrarch

So what about the fear of death?  Talking about it means getting past seven of the realizations that can lead, according to psychologists, to a fear of death.  They include an individual’s realization that:

  1. They can no longer have any life experiences;
  2. They may be uncertain as to what will happen to them if there is a life after death;
  3. They may be afraid of what will happen to their bodies after death;
  4. They realize they will no longer be able to care for their dependents;
  5. They realize that their death will cause grief to their relatives and friends;
  6. They realize that all their plans and projects will come to an end; and
  7. They may be afraid that the process of dying will be painful.

These are from an article I blogged about last year on Therapeutic Jurisprudence.  I recently came across an excellent short article in the Dec. 2012/ Jan. 2013  NAELA News magazine by Tani Bahti, entitled “Bury the Top Ten Myths About the Dying Process.”  Bahti, an R.N. and end-of-life consultant, gives an excellent list debunking some of the ideas we hold about the dying process.  I tend to think that much of our alienation of death is a recent phenomenon, ushered in with advances in medicine, pharmacology and longevity as a whole – many of us tend to view death as a medical problem, a failure of our system of keeping people alive for as long as they wish.  When so many of our loved ones die in hospitals, we often feel powerless and out of control, that there is nothing we can do.  But of course there is. . . .

Have the conversations, think “the unthinkable,”(death comes at the end of life)  and ponder the imponderable (whether there is part of us that survives death) and maybe these will enrich your life in some unforeseen way, or at least make it easier for your loved ones in the event something happens to you and – without that conversation – they might have no way of knowing what your wishes are.   Honor your heart and the hearts of others.

©Barbara Cashman




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