By Jared Hancock
“Jared, will you come over next week so we can talk you through all of our end-of-life plans?” As the youngest child of six, but the only one within 2 hours of my parents, this task fell on my shoulders a lot earlier than it should have, or at least a lot earlier than I wanted it to happen. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that I was having this conversation about ten years too soon. My dad is a retired Air Force officer and educator who firmly believes that if you are not two hours early, you are late.
I approached the conversation with some trepidation for two reasons. First, I didn’t want to face the finite mortality of my beloved parents. Second, I simply just HATE paperwork and keeping track of documents, contracts, and every other piece of data. I have a hard enough time doing it for myself, let alone my two aging parents.
The Green Box
I arrived in the evening after work and there it was in the middle of the kitchen counter – like that door in a horror movie that you scream inside for the protagonist to just leave alone. It shouldn’t have seemed ominous. All it was was a simple green box. A breadbox-sized molded plastic miniature filing cabinet of vertical files.
It represented my parents’ lives boiled down into a stack of papers.
Is this what we had come to?
Fifty years of teaching piano, a tour of duty in Vietnam, 25 years coaching little league football, six children, 31 grandchildren, fly fishing, game nights, musicals, camping, numerous books written about ancestors, not to mention boundless love for family, friends, and neighbors that they have impacted for good. There was something offensive to this whole experience.
About an hour into the conversation about funeral plans, do not resuscitate, estate plans, wills, and so on – I exclaimed, “Can you just tell me where the green box is? When the time comes, I will find that box and deal with the paperwork. Let’s just spend our time making memories rather than planning for a world without you.”
I was a little angry that they were so prepared. But, I now realize that my parents have given me a gift. I spend time with my parents. Zip lining, attending musicals, going on double dates with my wife and celebrating the holidays in their home with my children. All while knowing that they have planned ahead. I get to enjoy these moments not in spite of their planning, but because of their planning.
On the other hand, many people have to deal with the paperwork at a moment that they have to also deal with the emotional rapid decline of a parent’s health while looking for an assisted living, memory care, or nursing home that can accommodate the needs of their loved one. When they come through the doors of their new, and likely final, home, they deserve more than a stack of paper to fill out. They deserve a smile and friendly embrace and a place of belonging. They need to come home.
At Least You Have . . .
Now, going back to the green box. I remember talking to a friend about it. His response was telling: “At least you have a green box. I don’t even know what should be in my green box.” The truth is – filling that green box shouldn’t be the priority – let technology help fill that green box – so the green box can sit on the “digital shelf” and you can be present with those you love in your life.
So when the time comes that you need to address final medical authorizations, funerals, or any other emotionally difficult experience, you can simply pull out that box and deal with it. Spend time with the people you love, not the paperwork you hate.
As the CEO of Senior Sign, a Senior Living Foresigtht partner, I firmly believe that we can use technology to remove the painful and rudimentary tasks in our lives, so we can be present and be human. That software should facilitate more human connection – not replace it. At Senior Sign, we like to say – More People. Less Paper.