For Scottish 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, says Judy. “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.”
Judy was born in Dundee, Scotland, brought up in Dunblane and went to high school in Callander, a small town not far from Stirling Castle. She moved to Gisborne with her husband 18 years ago.
A trained artist, she 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 moved into a care home. 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 wished we had. Knowing her wishes would have helped my sister and me.” I now know that having these conversations leave your loved ones less stressed and regretful.
“After mum died, Jim and I were thinking about emigrating to New Zealand. A friend suggested they watch a TV programme about moving here. Hawkes Bay Realties funded it. 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 when we first landed in New Zealand confirmed what we had seen in the TV programme and more.”
Jim and Judy soon got involved in the community. 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 in my new home. I learnt so much volunteering for Hospice and thoroughly enjoyed it. I supported one person for three years. You become close and understand what is most important to them.”
“I also learnt 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 everyone is capable of communicating their wishes.”
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 whānau 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, says Judy.
“I read an article by Jo Seagar who said, “Smile as you bring up the topic and remember it’s not a Grim Reaper discussion. Don’t put this in the too-hard basket or settle for the ‘whatever will be will be’ scenario. It’s not a discussion about what’s the matter 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 would die before me. 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 Tairāwhiti Museum and Art Gallery. It was called ‘A Visual Journey’ and told the story of her life’s work.
It took me three years to put together, says Judy. “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.”
“I managed to finish the exhibition. Afterwards, 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 also do print making after joining Gisborne Printmakers Group after arriving in Gisborne.”
“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(external link) You will find links to Advance Care plan templates, and videos to help you think about, discuss and plan your future healthcare
Greeting cards to raise money for Myasthenia Gravis Support Group
People with myasthenia gravis are supported by a small group. Judy is currently working on five designs that will be used to make greeting cards. The cards will be sold to raise money for the group. Before this can happen, Judy will be approaching local organisations to cover the cost of setting up the screen printing and getting the project started.