Putting your wishes in writing
FOR artist Judy le Maistre Smith, making sure her loved ones know what she wants when she is nearing the end of her life is a priority.
Think about helping your loved ones, Judy says.
“It's not about getting near death, it's about your wishes being honoured and how you want people to treat you when you are dying.”
Born in Dundee, Scotland, Judy was brought up in the small town of Dunblane, not far from Stirling Castle.
She moved to Gisborne with her husband 18 years ago.
A trained artist, Judy lectured in Scottish art schools and developed her own art, specialising in ceramic sculpture.
During this time, she looked after her mum, who suffered from poor health, for 25 years.
“At the end of her life, Mum had to have several limbs amputated and she was moved into a care home,” Judy says.
“Even then, Mum was never going to die. She wanted doctors to keep her alive even if she was brain dead.
“Because of this we never had the conversation about what she wanted at the end of her life.
“I wish we had.
“Knowing her wishes would have helped my sister and I.
“I now know that having these conversations leaves your loved ones less stressed and regretful.
“After Mum died, my husband Jim and I were thinking about emigrating to New Zealand.
A friend suggested they watch a TV programme about moving here.
“The episode we watched featured Gisborne. By the end of the programme we were sold.
“Despite our daughter wanting us closer to Auckland where she lived, a visit to Gisborne confirmed what we had seen in the television programme and more.
Jim and Judy were quick to get involved with the community when they arrived in the region.
One of Judy's most rewarding experiences was as a support worker for Hospice Tairawhiti.
“During all of those years caring for Mum, I developed a lot of skills that I wanted to use,” Judy says.
“I learned so much from volunteering for Hospice and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
“I supported one person for three years. You become close and understand what is most important to them.
“I also learned how important it is for families to share what they want as their life draws to a close. The conversation needs to be had while people are still capable of communicating their wishes,” Judy says.
Putting your wishes in writing is called an Advance Care Plan.
It describes what is important to you as well as the healthcare and treatments you want.
This plan will help the healthcare team caring for you and your whanau and loved ones make decisions about your care if you can no longer tell them what you want.
“Jim and I have done our plans and shared them with our family,” Judy says.
“I read an article by Jo Seagar that said, ‘Smile as you bring up the topic and remember it is not a Grim Reaper discussion'.
“Don't put in the discussion what the matter is with you.
“It's more to do with what matters to you, what you want to happen and how you want your end-of-life experience to reflect your whole life.
“Jim is older than me and we expect he will die before me,” Judy says.
“The other person close to me is Eileen, my stepdaughter. I want to make things easy for her. “I don't want her to wonder ‘what would Judy want' or take on too much responsibility for decision-making.”
In 2016 Judy was preparing for a major solo exhibition at Tairawhiti Museum.
It was called A Visual Journey and told the story of her life's work.
“It took me three years to put together,” Judy says.
“Not long before it was due to open, I started getting terrible aches and pains and had trouble with my sight. I was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease.
“After the exhibition, I started to deal with the full effects of my diagnosis and realised I had to change direction with my art.
“I couldn't do heavy lifting anymore so I decided to lean into my drawing and painting skills.
“I joined the Gisborne Printmakers Group and learned the art of printmaking.
“Right now the illness is under control. The drug I am on now is really helping.
“That hasn't always been the case. If I relapse things may be different and I will be glad I have my Advance Care Plan.
“I have made it quite clear when I would want doctors to take me off a respirator.
“I thought about this over the years while looking after Mum.
“It matters to me that I get as much out of life as possible, but I have no fear of death.
“Physically I may deteriorate and I can put up with that. But if I were to significantly deteriorate mentally, I don't want to carry on.
“As long as I can mentally engage with people, have a means of communication and can eat a meal (even with help), I want to be kept alive.
“However, if I can't recognise people or communicate then I don't want to be resuscitated.
“Jim and I both want our ashes scattered at Eastwoodhill Arboretum as we have had many special times there.”
■ For more information on Advance Care Planning head to https://tinyurl.com/efas4uhs
There you will find Advance Care Plan templates and videos to help you think about, discuss and plan ahead.