Q. I am getting older, and I try to talk to my children about end-of-life issues. Every time I raise the subject, they accuse me of being morbid. I tell them I am realistic. Isn’t it wise to be prepared for death at any age? Please answer in the newspaper since I want to send your answer to them.
A. In my professional opinion, you are very realistic. It is expedient for everyone to have a will, to prepare a living will that will be filed with their primary care physician, to name someone as power of attorney for both financial and health care concerns, and to discuss end-of-life issues with their families. These are realistic steps that everyone should take so that family members are not blindly responsible for settling an estate and making end-of-life decisions.
Even if you have a limited income or a small estate, these decisions are important. Most problems with families arise when the estate is small and few prior arrangements have been made. A lawyer, who speaks to my developmental psychology class on end-of-life issues, tells the story of a client who left his seven children equal shares of ownership in his favorite shotgun.
Most likely your children are frightened that you will die. This is a normal response to parents growing older, but everyone must be prepared. Every day we hear of young people who have died from accidents or disease. End-of-life decisions should be left to the individual, not the children, parents, spouse, or hospital. Most medical professional share horror stories of people being kept alive with no hope of recovery because no prior arrangements were made and no prior choices were expressed.
You can find state-specific forms for a living will and powers of attorney at the website compassionandchoices.org. There are also many simple will forms that you can obtain online. Remember when you sign your will, you must have two witnesses who will not inherit from you and who are easy to locate should there be problems. If you have a large estate or other complications, you should consult an estate lawyer. It will be worth your time and money.
Q. My husband says I’m a negative thinker, but I don’t think I am. He tells me that my thinking is causing me to feel sad and to miss out on fun. I think I’m being practical. Can you define negative thinking for me?
A. Since your husband brought up the possibility of your negative thinking being problematic, you should examine the validity of his observations. If you are consistently thinking negatively then you are more likely to have problems with your immune system and to feel depressed more often than others.
Negative thinkers usually fall into patterns of dysfunctional thoughts across situations. For example, if you are positive at home and negative at work, the problem may be your job not your thinking patterns. Following are some questions to ask yourself to determine if you consistently have dysfunctional thoughts:
• Do you see the negative in most situations?
• Do you often refuse to look at the positive?
• Do you think you are unlucky?
• Do you think bad things are more likely to happen to you?
• Do you anticipate the worst most of the time?
• Do you often feel there is no escape from negative situations?
• Do you deny that many events, even if they appear negative, can have positive aspects?
If you fall into these patterns, a mental health professional can help you begin thinking more positively. There are also several excellent books that can help you. I recommend Mind Over Mood by Greenberger and Padesky and Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman.
Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. She teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or send them to Dr. Ryburn, SEARK, 1900Hazel Street, Pine Bluff, AR 71603. The questions could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all correspondence remains confidential.