End-of-life Planning Considerations

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager Emeritus, Oncology, Social Work

JANUARY 15, 2020

Asian cancer patient putting affairs in order

This is a very tough topic, and, if you are unsure whether you want to read any further, be reassured that this particular blog post is as practical and neutral as possible. This is not the time for me to write about feelings of sadness and grief, but, instead, to share some helpful information. File it away.

For many years, I organized and facilitated three-day retreats at a beautiful Buddhist Retreat Center in New Hampshire for women who were living with Stage IV or advanced cancers. Some of you may have read my blog posts about these experiences. As unlikely as it may seem, we all had a wonderful time, every single time. We spoke honestly and freely and sometimes painfully from our hearts, but we also laughed a lot, meditated, had yoga instruction, and ate and drank well. A recurring topic was the need to organize one's affairs and do some planning, both to feel a bit more in control and to make life easier for our families.

Some people come by this activity naturally, but many others need guidance. If you are thinking about the necessary difficult conversations about your end-of-life wishes, I refer you to the Five Wishes Document or The Conversation Project. Both will help you consider with whom and how to talk about your hopes, and gently guide you through the questions and discussion.

Recently, I learned about a very different and equally helpful resource called Lantern. This terrific site gives you all the information you could need about legal and funeral planning, insurance issues, wills, obituaries, and everything in between. In our online age, it has become important to know how to close various Internet and social media accounts, to consider what you might want to post, and to leave a list of passwords for whoever may need to deal with these tasks. Think about the online parts as similar to cleaning out the attic, coming upon some treasured heirlooms and a lot of junk.

Think about prepaying funeral expenses or, at least, leaving information about funding for your survivors. My favorite story is a woman who knew that her cancer would end her life, but was feeling quite well and wanted to use this better time to enhance her life. She met with a funeral director and made all the plans, then used a credit card to pay the total bill. She was careful to use a credit card that gave her airline miles, and she immediately used those miles (no doubt, added to others that were already in her account) to buy an around-the-world plane ticket. She had a wonderful trip.

Have you tried to grapple with these issues? Join the BIDMC Cancer Community and share your story.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
View All Articles