(The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 41, Issue 3.)
By Kimberly Best
Book reviewed by David Godfrey, JD, senior attorney, ABA Commission on Law and Aging
Your legacy is more than the Mustang convertible, the Florida condominium, or the possessions from a past generation that you leave behind. What’s most important is how you are remembered by loved ones and friends -- and this book explains how to live the last chapter of life in a way that enables you to “leave your legacy with purpose.”
For many families, the last illness of a loved one is a time of confusion and conflict. In How to Live Forever, author Kimberly Best offers sage advice and tips based on her work first as a registered nurse, and later as a mediator focusing on family conflict and elder care. She shares her insight working with families at critical junctures to inspire us to focus on relationships, and on resolving questions and conflicts, in our final stages of living.
This 122-page book begins with a simple overview of the importance of putting our legal affairs in order well before they are needed. The basic tools of financial planning and decision-making are explained, along with the basics of wills and trusts. A helpful checklist that may be needed or considered at or near the end of life is provided.
Families are often torn apart by not knowing what health care decisions to make on a relative’s behalf, or by conflict over the choices that are made. Best explains that effective planning assures families that the care a relative receives or doesn’t receive reflects that individual’s beliefs and values. Thought-provoking questions about end-of-life wishes are provided to help readers start a conversation with loved ones.
A Celebration of Life
Another chapter explores the trend toward a celebration of life, with a focus on the how a well-planned send-off can help the survivors at a very difficult time. Again, Best provides useful questions for readers to consider, such as:
- Who will be in charge of executing your wishes?
- What, if any, type of religious preference do you have for the ceremony?
- What type of funeral service/end-of-life celebration do you want?
In the chapter titled, Telling Your Story, Best puts forth ideas on how to develop, tell, record, or otherwise document this. “Stories live forever,” she writes, “so stories make us immortal.” The richness of these stories and recollections can be very healing for surviving family members. The author offers ideas and questions to help readers develop their stories for survivors to remember when they have passed on.
Best uses the last several chapters of her book to focus on resolving family conflict through communication tools and mediation. Tapping into her expertise, she offers guidance to help mend broken relationships and improve communication while encouraging respect, understanding and forgiveness. The ideas in these chapters would easily translate to any family counseling or mediation.
I recommend this book to people who work with adults facing or nearing the final chapter of life, and to families with loved ones who choose to plan ahead, live fully, and pass on without regret. The book is written well and accessible to readers without specialized training. Each chapter has practice tips, checklists, or thought-provoking questions to ponder. The book is a fast read and compact for all of the tips, tools, and resources it offers.
A Personal Note: When my Aunt Edith died unexpectedly at age 57, her husband and son found a stack of letters in her desk drawer addressed to loved ones to be opened in the event of her death. Those very personal messages offered strength and reassurance to her family at a very difficult time. The letters are a very significant part of the final chapter of her life story.