New Year’s Resolutions
More than a matter of life and death
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.