Are You “Planning” on Growing Old: A Series on our Own Future

We will all grow old, hopefully, and will die.  Death is usually a natural part of living and the process of dying can be planned for, to some extent.  This article will talk about why we tend to resist talking about and planning for dying.

I think we spend way more time planning a vacation than we spend planning for the next 30 years.

As we age, we will likely:  lose a spouse, live alone, experience chronic illness, possibly become demented and/or need someone else to handle our medical and financial care.  We have a hard time talking about all of these events but, when we do, we can make the process easier on ourselves and our loved ones.  Planning for the future is a gift to our family.  Not planning can often lead to chaos.

I think one of the reasons we avoid these conversations is that these are new experiences for us.  We’ve never gotten old before.  We’ve never lived so long and we have never died before.  Think about people in your family and in your life who have died.  How many did so peacefully for themselves and for their loved ones?  Who had made plans about treatment and care and had those followed so that dying was a natural process?  Were there people who spent weeks and sometimes months getting treatment without success?  What do you want and does your family and others know about your wishes?

Planning for the last period of life can be done in three steps.  First, think about what you want—where do you want to be, how much treatment do you want, do you want Hospice when physicians feel that further treatment will not be successful, are there things you want to do before you die?

Second, talk to your family about what you want .  Have the conversationwhen you want and when you are comfortable and it can be in several sessions.  Avoid otherwise stressful times such as holidays or after someone else’s death.  Take a look at “Five Wishes”, a booklet available online at  This document  can help you look at the end of life in a careful way and can also serve as a Medical Durable Power of Attorney.

This leads us to our third step, which is writing your wishes down.  Medical personnel and family members will have an easier time following your wishes if they are written and available at the time they are needed.  Even then, sometimes it takes a strong family member to be sure that the wishes are followed.

It is also important to take responsibility for our own future and not leave the decision-making to someone else.  Family members and others may not agree.  If you have not talked to folks about what you want and how you want to die, you have lost control of one of the most important events in your life.

We avoid these discussions and making these plans for lots of reasons—we don’t want people to know our business, we don’t want to bother our kids and we are OK with leaving the issue to others.  Somehow these are all rationalizations  that help us justify our fear of this topic.

Some people have a sense that, if they talk about it, death will happen so they don’t.  We listen to our children who we sense don’t want to talk about the inevitable.  Maybe we even feel that we might lose control.


So here are some things to think about until next time:

  • What will life be like for you at 85 or 90?
  • Who will be around to help and do you want them?
  • Do you trust these helpers?
  • Will you have enough money?
  • Where and how will you be living and is it close to the helpers?
  • What limits on care do you want—DNR, life supports, pain meds?
  • Where and how would you like to die?
  • What type of funeral or memorial service do you want?

You have your homework, send us your questions and check into in about a month for another in the series.