Letter From the CEO: Nov 2015

Nov 3, 2015, 12:59 PM by

This past month was a rough one at my house, so I'm going to write about something a little different in this letter. I've been through the ringer, and because of that, I feel like I have some new wisdom/advice to share.

Here is some background: My mom had Lewy Body Dementia and has been in a memory care unit at a place called Keystone Place at Legacy Ridge. They were great, by the way, and I highly recommend the place. My sister came into town for a quick visit last month. It is always great to have her here; I say that because it is nice to have some help with mom. Mom’s life got so small that visits were a highlight of the day or week.

What happened next was completely unexpected. On Wednesday of that week, mom fell and needed some stitches. My wife and sister took her to the hospital, and the medical staff there found she was having or had just experienced a heart attack.

My mom had a very strong living will that precluded the use of any machines or artificial means of life support including feeding tubes, IV hydration and so on. Mom was not able to communicate with us at this point so the doctor at the ER nicely suggested Hospice.

What?! We came in for stitches, and we are leaving with Hospice? This brings me to my newly acquired knowledge about end-of-life planning.

Rule #1: Living Will

Your situation can change on a dime. You need to discuss your wishes with your family members and have a living will. The forms for this are online and you can get them for free. Give them to multiple family members, so they know what you want. Otherwise you could be pitting your kids and other family members against one another. Don’t create a bad situation. Talk to people about your wishes and give them scenarios so they understand what you want.

Since our mom had taken care of the living will, my sister and I knew what to do. However, the hospital would not just take the living will as the “law” without further conversations with us. I was her medical power of attorney, so I had to make the Hospice decision.

Rule #2: Medical Power of Attorney

You need to designate someone or a couple of people as your medical power of attorney. This is a legal document that gives them the power to make medical decisions on your behalf. If you care about your living will, you should have someone who can legally speak for you and carry out your wishes.

That afternoon we went to TRU Community Care Hospice, which is co-located with Balfour in Lafayette. The staff at TRU are wonderful, and Hospice is an organization that deserves all of our support. Once again, the medical power of attorney came into play here. Hospice needed me to make all kinds of decisions around mom’s care.

This is a horrible position to be put in, but we knew what mom wanted because of her living will, and I had the authority to do it for her.

Four days later, my mom passed away. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t joyful. I loved her very much and would rather have her back here than in heaven. There were eight of us in the room with her when she passed, and we were able to support one another.

Now I had to deal with her estate, funeral and other issues.

Rule #3: Power of Attorney

I had been appointed as her power of attorney several years earlier as her health began to decline. This document allowed me to work with the banks, nursing homes and legal entities during her incapacitation. It was critical to have this in place so I did not have to jump through extra hoops in selling her home to pay for her care, filing taxes, relicensing her car or any of the other thousands of legal issues we all deal with every year. You need to have someone you trust assigned to this critical position.

The funeral arrangements were easy because my dad died 10 years ago, and mom had a tombstone made at that time. Many couples get tombstones in place years prior to their death, and this is a good thing as it takes the guessing out of it for your kids and other family members. Don’t leave these arrangements for them to decide; you should do it while you can. Also decide about a funeral home, so you know who to call when this happens.

Thank you to Howe Funeral Home in Lafayette.

Another important thing to decide is about organ donations. Mom was 85 years old and in poor health. We could have donated her body to science, but we didn’t want to do that. What we did care about was her Lewy Body Dementia, which is an awful disease (Robin Williams and Casey Kasem had it). Once she went into Hospice, we contacted the Harvard Brain Bank and donated her brain to the scientists who are studying this disease. This seemed appropriate, and that gift of her brain will help others in the future.

Rule #4: An Estate Plan

Don’t let your kids or other family members try to figure out who should get the silverware or certain pieces of property. You need to make a list of who gets what for the key items that you have. Families are torn apart over trying to divide up the property and valuables you leave behind, and this is exactly what you don’t want to happen. Emotions run high after a loved one dies, and this type of uncertainty only adds to it. You don’t have to label everything. Just ask the family what they feel strongly about and deal with that. Then give them an idea of how to take care of the rest.

You can also talk to an attorney and have them create a trust that is funded for your kids. That will make the transfer of the wealth seamless. I don’t know the particulars of this, but that is what mom did and our meeting with the attorney was only about 30 minutes (Thank you, Katie Goff from Goff and Goff).

The bottom line is that my mom really took care of this for us. It was horrible to watch her die, but I could focus on her, my family and our other friends instead of the details and legal issues. This was a big gift from her to us. Now we know what to do to take care of our kids, and we have now taken care of most of this even though we are only 52.

If you have any questions about any of this, please feel free to contact me. I can point you in the right direction.

As always I am here to listen to your concerns about the Y, and I will try to make your experience better.


Thank You, 
Chris Coker 
CEO/President of YMCA of Boulder Valley