End of Life Planning

A Homily for Advent II, Year A

“Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Matthew 24:44

Advent is the season of preparing. Not just preparing for the coming of the baby Jesus into the world. (Which I bet you thought this homily was going to be about.) But about preparing for the second coming of our Lord into the world, the Parousia, the “end of days”, the “last judgement” if you will. Now, I could go on and on about how you have to prepare for every day as if it were your last, or even the world’s collective last day. But it would be just another “preparation” homily, preached in advent, to a group of people who have heard this calling time and time again. I’m not going to be “that” deacon today. I’m not going to talk to you about the same subject you mull over during every advent season, and maybe again at lent. Nope. I’m going to give you a message today that we don’t often discuss enough, and especially not at mass, and not in the context of a homily.

I want to talk to you about the end of YOUR life. But not about how ready you are to meet our Lord. Instead, how well prepared you may not be to have your earthly affairs handled as you take your last breath, and after you are gone.

We are all going to die. Someday, somehow. We will. It may be something we see coming. It may be unexpected. It may be a natural death, or it may be a tragic accident. It might be a heart attack and quick. It might be a long drawn out process. But no matter what, just as we have to prepare ourselves spiritually, we have to prepare our families. Both so that they know our desires and can be there with us in as stress-free an environment as possible, but also to plan for their well-being after we are gone.

First of all, we have to make sure that our children and loved ones know what our wishes are in the case of an emergency situation. Every day hundreds of people across the U.S. are hospitalized and face near-death situations. Every day those people’s family members are called upon to make major end-of-life decisions for their loved ones. Do you have a living will? Or a DNAR order? Or a No Extreme Measures order? Do you know how these work? Does your family have access to them? How about power of attorney should you become incapacitated? If you don’t have these kinds of plans in place, do your next of kin at least know your wishes so that they can make an informed decision should you need life support, or extreme measures?

Having been at my own grandfather’s bedside, and being one of the legal proxies able to speak for him, I know first hand of the need to both have these orders and to have family who understands, specifically, your wishes. I got an extra 6 years with my grandfather because I knew his wishes, and understood what he considered to be “extreme measures”. My decision saved his life and allowed him to know his great-grandchildren. But, if we had not had those difficult conversations beforehand, my family would have missed all of those memories that followed.

Knowing what to do not only helps in situations like mine, but it can be a great stress relief to your loved ones when they are already facing difficulty. Having an order in place, or having discussed it with them gives them the ability to make a decision (or not) knowing it is what you would want. End-of-life decisions can be extremely difficult and can tear families apart. They can also be morally difficult for those making decisions. But if you can save your family that stress, you have given them a blessing during this time.

Beyond these end-of-life decisions, there are other things to consider as well. Especially for those of us who are younger and have families to care for still at home. Yes, we can face these tragic moments as well as our parents. So we should be prepared. Have you planned for your children when you are gone. Do you have life insurance set aside for them? If they are minors do you have a will that states who should raise them in your absence? These are all important things to consider and are our duty to our minor children. It’s part of our responsibility as parents.

Even if your children are grown, or if you have no children, a will is vitally important for those we leave behind. Without the directions of a will, it can take months or even years at times for a probate court to settle our arrangements. Sure you know your kids will know what to do with your things, who will get the antique chest, who will get the piano, etc… but what about those capital investments, your home, your beach house, your cars, etc… and what about the money in your bank account. Those things can’t just be dispersed in most states without a will or a probate order saying what to do with them. You owe it to your children, your families, and your loved ones to leave these kinds of directions available to them when you leave this world.

Since the dawn of man, we have made it a priority to leave our children with a blessing, with directions for after we have gone. Even in Genesis we see early on that Adam when preparing to leave this life wants to give his patriarchal blessing to Abel. We need to prepare not only spiritually for our death, but also with our decisions and or possessions.

Please consider your end-of-life planning this advent as you prepare for the coming of our Lord. He may come for each of us sooner than we ever intended. Do it for your children. Do it for those you love.