Blog :: 04-2008

Death with Dignity

Yesterday I attended a memorial service for my friend that died from ALS. I have never known anyone with this disease. My friend was also my lawyer and we saw each other everyday for 20 years as we worked in the same building. He was diagnosed with this disease back in November. It was hard for me not to want to say, "oh I am sure there will be some drug that they can give you to make you better." I think he kept hoping for the miracle, but none came. Over a five month period I watched as he lost a little bit of himself each week until he could not eat, speak or move a finger. It was more than I could bare to see my friend trapped in his body, still with eyes that recognized you but no ability to tell you.

I thought during these moments when I would visit him, there was not much I could say to him to comfort him. Even reporting the news, or talking about some real estate problem seemed ridiculous when I am sure these worldly problems seemed trivial to him. But what I mostly thought about was Vermont's struggle to bring about the " Death with Dignity Law." If ever there was a time where this law would have been a blessing for my friend, this was it.

I thought often about my own death in these past months and what I would want if I were faced with ALS. As long as I could speak or had a means to communicate, if I could engage in life around me. I would want to continue.Once I was no longer able to communicate I would want to die on my own terms with my family and friends with me. I would no more want to be trapped in my own body, not being able to move a muscle, not being able to tell anyone that I hurt, not being able to bend my leg, than I would want to jump off a cliff. There are times when we should be able to choose our death.

There are people who argue that older people would feel pressure to take their own life because they would not want to be a burden on their families. The people that think this way do not understand the laws surrounding the Death with Dignity law. You are only allowed to request to die after you have been diagnosed with a disease from which you will never recover, you must only have three months left to live, and you must have a doctor's certificate stating so. Why, people feel that something like this would be forced on you is beyond me. It is a decision that is just not made by you, but a team of people. And it is a personal decision, with professional advise. Many people would not care if they could not move a muscle, eat or communicate, they woudl continue until they died. But for those of us that could not bare to be in the condition that my friend was in, we should have our choice.

When the "Death with Dignity" law comes before the Vermont legislature the next time, think about what you would want to do if you were in the same position as my friend. Call your legislator up and encourage him or her to vote for the law. Then, perhaps you will be able to decide how you would like to die. You would not have to suffer as my friend did.

I wish that he were here. I wish that I could go up to his office and listen to his advise, pet his dog who laid under his feet in his office or juts past the time of day as we often did. His light was on in his office last night when I went by, as it was so many nights for so many years, but I know he is not there, he is somewhere else joining his friends and relatives, leaving us to continue to fight the fight. I will miss him.

Building That Dream House Series:Part Two


1. Determine how much you have to spend:You have decided that you are going to build. Now what is the next step? Before you go any farther you should sit down with a financial counselor from a lending institution and get an idea of exactly how much money that you will have to complete the project from the purchase of the land to the final nail being pounded and the landscaping completed. Once you have that number you can begin.

The very first question you need to research is: how much is it costing a square foot to build a house. This will vary from modular to stick built but with a few quick phone calls to local contractors and modular home companies you can get a ball park figure. Next you should have some idea how large a house you would like to have. Once you have figured that out you can multiply the dollar per sq. foot figure you got, add another 20% and that will determine whether you can afford to buy land and build a house. It will also determine how much you should spend on land.

2. Find a mortgage lender: You can ask your realtor for a recommendation. Usually they are the best source of knowledge because they usually know who is lending for construction loans, who has the best rates and who they trust. Once they give you several names you should call and see whose personality fits your style. They will work hard to get you a loan at the best rate that they can find.

3. Find a Realtor: You can ask friends, family or go to and search under the zip code that you are interested in. You will get bios and links to realtors websites that will help you make a decision. You can also go to the Coldwell Banker: and look for a realtor in your area. If you are thinking of a second home in a resort area or you are moving a call to a Coldwell Banker broker will get you a personal referral to that area. It is important to work with a professional who knows the area where you are thinking of building. Each area of the country has its quirks. different state and local rules, and you can save precious hours by hiring a realtor to represent you. If your realtor is a professional ,she/he will have a list of qualified and bonded professionals to help you through the process of purchasing, building, house cleaners, home management companies, etc.

3. Hire an attorney: Again it is important to get personal recommendations on lawyers. Once you have found a lawyer that you are comfortable with, sit down with them and find out what they recommend that you should do to protect yourself and insure that you have a pleasant experience. It may be that after they have helped you with the purchase of your land, they can then recommend ways to work with a builder. Because they know the area they will be able to tell you what builders have a good reputation and who does not.

4.Hire an architect:After or before you have purchased the land you should hire an architect/designer or an engineer to place your house at the best possible site on the land. Also, to make sure that the house, septic and well are located where the permit allows. They will also be aware of any restrictions on the land and make sure that you are in compliance with these. You would be surprised how many times realtors and lawyers have cautioned buyers regarding the regulations only to find out that the buyer never really listened to the advise and they did what they felt like doing. This especially happens when it comes to tree cutting restrictions.

5.Hiring a contractor: Local recommendations are the best. If you have hired an architect/designer or engineer their recommendation along with your lawyer and real estate agent will be the best way to find a contractor. The contractors reputation in the community is key. Make sure that his business card is a local address and phone number at that he actually has an existing office. It is a good idea to visit with him at his office. Make sure that you get a list of references from him and make sure that you talk with these people. Although your contractor does not have to have the latest model truck or car, you should make sure that it is not a bucket of bolts. This could say something about his fiscal abilities and his attention to detail. I would be concerned about the contractor that wants cash. If he is asking for cash it might be a sign that he is shirking responsibilities in other areas. If you want to check out a contactors finances Money Magazine recommends For $13 you can check on a contractors finances.

5. Enjoy the process: If there are areas that you do not feel comfortable with, hire a professional to help you. This may be as simple as choosing paint colors or as complicated as a lighting plan. Perhaps you want an advocate on the job to make sure everything is being done to your specifications, there are many people you can hire. Whatever you decide, the building process should not be something you dread, it should be an opportunity for you to create your "dream home." There are many decisions to be made and if you do not like to make them, hire someone that can do that for you. It will be cheaper, than the delays you will have if you cannot make a decison.

If you go to my website: you will be able to search land, and look for professionals in every field. For the last 34 years I have sold land for sub-divisions or for individuals looking for their piece of paradise. Land and building have been one of my specialties. My husband, Shap owns Patterson and Smith Construction. He works with me on many projects and I have learned many aspects of the building trade which helps me find customers the land that suits their desires. But my best advise to you is: Have Fun!