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Our Checklist March 28, 2012

Posted by ijwoods in Blog+.
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Are you clear what to do when your family member or loved one passes away? An end-of-life checklist is indispensible.

I put the checklist that K and I created into the resources area. This is by no means the ultimate checklist, but one that worked well for our situation. It should give you a good starting point. One other thing K put together was a couple of binders with detailed information needed to complete items on the checklist. For instance, one binder had all our legal documents like the will, the two types of powers of attorney, etc. The other binder had basic information all her accounts, contact info for her immediate family, all the doctors contact info, hospice info, various articles or segments of books with “how to” information like transferring a car title, etc.

The checklist provided me a lot of comfort. You really won’t know what state you are going to be in when that final breath is taken and you also don’t know at what time it will happen or who will be around. In my case I was alone and it was around 4 AM.

During K’s last days I was administering medication to her every 4 hours around the clock.  I had a “med session” at 12 AM and set my alarm for 4 AM for the next round (I was sleeping in the room with her). Before lying down I noticed her breathing was different than anything I encountered before. I didn’t know what to think but fell asleep listening to her take heavy breaths. I was so exhausted I passed out.

When my alarm went off at 4 AM I laid there a in the semi-darkness to listen for the breath, but there was no sound. For the past week or so this was not uncommon; there would be no breath for 20-60 seconds and then a big inhale. But this time one minute went by and then two and still nothing. I got up and turned on the light. Still no sound of the breath. I sat next to her and waited carefully watching for movement. I held her hand; it was stiff and I was immediately overwhelmed. Even though I knew this was coming the reality was so hard to comprehend. I thought I might be wrong and that she is breathing so delicately that I’m missing it. So I called the hospice.

Of course the first thing on the checklist is to call the hospice and get verification of death. The nurse was over in short order and after checking vitals certified that K had passed away. The nurses in hospice are amazing people. They live through this every day and do it with incredible compassion and insight. The nurse stayed with me quite a while to make sure I was okay before she left. I then waited some time before calling the mortuary, which was the next step. The person who answered was very respectful. He asked if I wanted them to come later or right then. As it had already been a while I felt comfortable for them to come over and collect the body. Each of these things sound pretty easy but each step has its own set of realizations and emotions as you do them. It’s all so disorienting particularly when you have a strong bond with that person and have been with them for years.

As you will see, the checklist is pretty simple, yet even so I had to make decisions we never discussed or considered. Still, I cannot emphasize how smooth it made things. Without it I would have been constantly reviewing stuff over and over again in my head wondering what was missed, but having the checklist kept that annoyance away.

Note that you will have access to some very good checklists from either your hospice or the mortuary which can provide further ideas and information. Your checklist will probably require far more than what I have here. You may have to make calls regarding Veteran benefits or Social Security benefits and so on. It can get quite complex.

I’ve seen many checklists saying “locate the safe deposit box; locate the life insurance policy…” etc. I urge you to try and get yourself way ahead of that. If I had to “locate” things hidden away I would have been doomed. K was kind enough to make sure I had everything I needed consolidated and ready to go. I realize that won’t be the case in unexpected situations, but consider it.  I still find myself referring back to checklist and/or the binders at least once a week for things that continue to come up.

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