There is that old saying that there are three givens in life…”birth, death and taxes.”

For most of us, birth is a joyously anticipated event. Our family has advance notice and time to prepare themselves to care for a child. It is a life-changing adjustment and always challenging. We know from experience that being prepared is helpful, if not critical, for a smooth transition. Less stress allows more joy.

Our family thought we were ready for our child, but he came into this world with a severe birth defect, and we were taken by surprise. There was overwhelming stress and plenty of joy.

I will call this preparation for the birth of a child an entry strategy. We had one, but it was insufficient. This experience, among others, is why I try to anticipate the unexpected in life.

For most of us, death is a dreaded event, something we prefer not to consider. We know it is the second of those “givens,” but we often do not prepare for it. Sometimes we have advance notice, and sometimes we do not. When we do not make choices on our own, they are made for us by others. Usually this works out well, but what if it does not?

I think we all would like to die with comfort and dignity.

When my mother was dying, the keywords her family and caregivers used, our code words, were “comfort and peace.”

I spent a lot of time in hospitals as a parent and a lot of time in nursing homes as an adult child. I observed how each person and each family made different choices on care.

I am inviting you to consider your own exit strategy. What would you like for you and your loved ones to experience when you are leaving this life?

If you give it some thought now, and make a plan, you will feel more secure and less worried. A plan not only will give you peace of mind, but it will provide a guideline for your family and those who will be responsible for your care. It will be immensely helpful for them to know what you want and how to help.

At the insistence of my mother, my husband and I completed the simple steps needed for our own exit strategy.

We now each have a medical directive and health care agent, which discloses “what I want.” We now have a Power of Attorney document, which informs of “who will speak for me.” We also chose to prepare a Last Will and Testament.

We actually enjoyed the process and felt a burden lifted from us that allowed us to move into our future with confidence.

There are many excellent choices on legal counsel, social services, hospice guidance and pastors. There is a lot of help available to you from people who are experienced in end-of-life issues.

When I decided to write this to inform my community, I searched for something simple, personal and inexpensive to help you get started. I discovered an organization called “Five Wishes.” It is available in 27 languages. More than 19 million people of all ages have already used it. The document costs only $5.

Because it works so well, doctors, hospitals and hospices, faith communities, employers, lawyers and retiree groups are handing out this document.

Five Wishes gives you a simple guide to talk with your family, friends and doctor about how you want to be treated if you become seriously ill.

Your family members will not have to guess what you want. They will not have to make difficult choices for you without knowing what you want. On the other hand, if someone you care about is seriously ill, you will know what they want and be prepared to help them.

Here are the Five Wishes questions:

• Who is the person I want to make care decisions for me when I cannot?

• What kind of medical treatment do I want or do not want?

• How comfortable do I want to be?

• How do I want people to treat me?

• What do I want my loved ones to know?

If you want to be prepared for your future, this may be a good place to begin. For more information, call (850) 681-2010 or visit fivewishes@agingwithdignity.org

AARP also offers information on Advance Directive Forms. Learn more at www.aarp.org.

Another source for free Advance Directive Forms is Samaritan Healthcare Hospice. Learn more at (800) 228-8183 or www.samaritannj.org/resources/5-wishes-living-will-documents.

Delora Gillman is a new resident of Halifax County. She and her husband retired here to garden and enjoy the beauty of this area. Previously they lived in Nelson County and worked in Charlottesville for most of the past 20 years. She is a retired dental hygienist, and her husband is a retired property maintenance person, in addition to many other skills.