New Year’s Res­o­lu­tions

More than a mat­ter of life and death

Times of the Islands - - On The Radar - BY DR. RAN­DALL H. NIEHOFF

Jan­uary is named af­ter the an­cient Ro­man god Janus, who presided over door­ways, gates, tran­si­tions, be­gin­ning and end­ings. He is usu­ally de­picted with two faces: One look­ing back­ward and the other for­ward. As each Jan. 1 marks the pas­sage of one year to an­other, his “twofaced per­spec­tive” re­minds us that we live be­tween mem­ory and hope, and that mo­ti­vates al­most ev­ery­one to make New Year’s res­o­lu­tions.

Look­ing back, we are re­minded that the “old” year died in the cold dark­ness of a win­ter’s mid­night—the same black vel­vet wrap­ping in which the “new” year was born. Around the world, that tran­si­tion was ac­com­pa­nied by bright lights and loud noises, as if to fend off our mor­tal fear of blind deaf­ness or to dis­tract us from the un­stop­pable and ever-ac­cel­er­at­ing pace of chang­ing times. Look­ing ahead, we can’t es­cape the re­al­iza­tion that just as the year passes away, so do we.

For ev­ery­one who is born alive there awaits the re­al­ity of dy­ing. How we ap­proach death can be cat­e­go­rized as re­li­gious or sec­u­lar, be­grudg­ingly ac­cepted or de­fi­antly de­nied, tensely feared or serenely wel­comed—but en­counter it we will.

Turn­ing our face to the fu­ture as the new year comes to­ward us is like step­ping up to the plate to face a pitcher who is throw­ing noth­ing but fast­balls—right down the mid­dle. To get on base we can’t close our eyes in de­nial and do noth­ing; we must make the de­ci­sion to swing. Know­ing that the game will end some­day means it takes courage to “play ball.” Most of us feel like Woody Allen, who quipped: “It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it hap­pens!” Re­solv­ing to get in the game puts us on first base.

The next res­o­lu­tion shows the way to sec­ond base: The cre­ation of a clear and le­gal es­tate plan. There are three steps along the base­line, and each should be taken with the ad­vice of an at­tor­ney: 1) Last will and tes­ta­ment, so the as­sets of your es­tate con­vey your power to sup­port those peo­ple and causes you value. Es­tab­lish­ing a trust for your ben­e­fi­cia­ries may be ap­pro­pri­ate. 2) Liv­ing will and health care proxy, with copies given to all in your fam­ily cir­cle. 3) Power of at­tor­ney, in­clud­ing su­per­vi­sion of a new as­set—your dig­i­tal es­tate! Third base is the place where the game gets “phys­i­cal”—

re­solv­ing what are called “end-of-life is­sues.” Here are the ABCs in­volved:

AHealth care: When the need for as­sisted liv­ing ar­rives, do you want care at home or in a vi­brant pro­fes­sional fa­cil­ity? Be­gin in­quir­ing now—so you can touch base stand­ing up in­stead of slid­ing in. Civ­i­liza­tion at its finest can be ex­pe­ri­enced through hospice care, pro­vided at home or in the hos­pit al (first for pal­lia­tive care and, if needed, for those with ter­mi­nal con­di­tions). Added to that, there arose in 2003 a move­ment of “end-of-life doulas,” from the an­cient Greek word for ser­vant. Th­ese are trained and ex­pe­ri­enced pro­fes­sion­als who guide pa­tients and fam­i­lies through the dy­ing process. Lastly, there is the op­tion for as­sisted sui­cide. The Death with Dig­nity Na­tional Cen­ter re­minds us that in the United States there are six states that al­low the prac­tice (Ore­gon, Wash­ing­ton, Cal­i­for­nia, Mon­tana, Ver­mont and Colorado), with more than half of the states dis­cussing the is­sue. In­ter­na­tion­ally, Canada, Ger­many, Ja­pan and Colom­bia are among coun­tries per­mit­ting as­sisted deaths.

“To ev­ery thing there is a sea­son, and a time for ev­ery pur­pose un­der the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die ...” —Ec­cle­si­astes 3:1-2

BHan­dling re­mains: Here again, there are op­tions to con­sider: do­na­tion of or­gans; be­queathal of body to med­i­cal re­search/ed­u­ca­tion; burial (where and when); cre­ma­tion (ashes in­terred or scat­tered—where and when).

CRite of pas­sage: There can be a funeral (body present, cas­ket open or closed—usu­ally within a few days of death) with the burial (called a com­mit­tal) held after­ward; and there can be a memo­rial (no re­mains present, al­low­ing for more flex­i­bil­ity in sched­ul­ing time and place). While th­ese rites are a cel­e­bra­tion of a life, they are also an oc­ca­sion of heal­ing, as­sist­ing those who mourn. As base­ball great Yogi Berra weighed in: “Al­ways go to other peo­ple’s fu­ner­als or they won’t come to yours.”

Fi­nally, re­solve to head home with en­thu­si­asm! Deal­ing with th­ese is­sues can be trau­matic, dis­turb­ing enough to shake ba­sic as­sump­tions about life’s fair­ness, hu­man good­ness, and sur­vival it­self. But you have touched base with plans to meet the chal­lenges and de­serve to ex­pe­ri­ence what psy­chol­o­gists have iden­ti­fied as the five marks of post-trau­matic growth, ac­cord­ing to a 1996 ar­ti­cle by pro­fes­sors Richard Tedeschi and Lau­rence Cal­houn in Journal of

Trau­matic Stress. The five marks are greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion of life and changed pri­or­i­ties; more in­ti­mate per­sonal re­la­tion­ships; a greater sense of per­sonal strength; recog­ni­tion of “new pos­si­bil­i­ties or paths for one’s life,” and spir­i­tual growth.

Ex­is­ten­tial­ist Al­bert Ca­mus af­firmed: “In the midst of win­ter, I found there was, within me, an in­vin­ci­ble sum­mer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no mat­ter how hard the world pushes me, within me, there’s some­thing stronger—some­thing bet­ter push­ing right back.”

That must be how it feels to hit a home run!

KNOW­ING THAT THE GAME WILL END SOME­DAY MEANS IT TAKES COURAGE TO “PLAY BALL.”

Ran Niehoff and his wife have lived on Sani­bel since 1991. Re­tir­ing in 2008 af­ter 41 years of par­ish min­istry, he has writ­ten a col­umn for Times of the Is­lands since 2010 and be­gan teach­ing in BIG ARTS Win­ter Academy in 2011. He also taught part-time in col­lege and hospi­tal set­tings. He worked as an on-call coun­selor to the ter­mi­nally ill and their fam­i­lies in Jones Memo­rial Hospi­tal in Wellsville, New York, and con­ducted train­ing ses­sions for the New Eng­land Funeral Direc­tors As­so­ci­a­tion.

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