The Biggest Little Mission In My Life

By Barbara Sehr

Reno, the “biggest  little city in the world,” is a place where you can climb any mountain or get get high in some other form. On my recent visit,  getting high” meant five days of continued intensive training as the grandmother of Donnie, 5, and Emma 3. For others, it’s all about living and games people play. About the only time you hear of someone speaking of dying here is when you hear a voice crying out in the back of a casino: “I’m dying over here.”

This visit also had a special secret mission. I was a recent graduate of my first Speaking of Dying Workshop taught by Trudy James in Seattle. Trudy encourages her students to get to really know our prospective health care agent. That trusted agent is expected to be there when the time comes for our own death IF there are decisions that we can no longer make for ourselves.

As a parent, of course, I should know my 34-year-old son better than I might know a man of the cloth, a lawyer, or even the nice lady at the German deli who knows what I’m getting before I speak the words. However, some threatening clouds in our past relationship caused me to fear this mission in Reno would be a gamble that could put our tenuous relationship at peril. In recent years, our relationship had warmed, especially since the birth of my grand-children. My son will soon be my closest living relative as my 95-year-old father in Germany is currently staring death in the face. I feared, however, that at worst my son might not be available at the end of my life, and at best, he would put my remains in a dumpster.

As we sat down in my son’s home, I introduced the topic of the “Five Wishes” Advanced Directive.  I had brought the paperwork with me, rehearsed a 90-minute, digital, full-color, surround-sound PowerPoint presentation in my mind, and was prepared at a minimum to choose the color of my final dumpster home. Before I could get much of my presentation out of my mouth, he surprised me. “I know a lot more about the end of life than you think,” he said.

He told me that he already has agreed to be the power of attorney for his aging mother-in-law in far-off Texas, and that he has signed a Five Wishes document for her. “I would be happy to sign one for you too,” he said.

In many visits to Reno, where my son has spent his entire professional life, I had finally picked a winning card. Of course, I could sense that already from the eyes of my grand-children who have been brought up in an environment where love and education are prime factors. Both youngsters have advanced vocabularies for their age, and fortunately have gotten their Hollywood-casting looks from someone other than I. I wasn’t always there for my son when he was growing up but I did always do my best to retain a relationship

Ours has never been a relationship based on traditional religious sacraments. Yet, through my experience in the Speaking of Dying Workshops I have created a sacred tie between my son and myself that I had never envisioned. Now, I must work on the details of my Advanced Directive so he will know what life supports I do want and not want OR so he will be able to speak for me if I can’t speak OR so we can both be sure we are on the same page. Of course, there are other details, like do I choose the green dumpster or the blue one?

Barbara Sehr is a tech assistant at Heartworks .

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