By Debbie Shumway, Hospice of the Valley executive director
It’s a special honor to care for people at all stages of life. Whether it’s a child or adult, whether it’s care for chronic illness or hospice services, our goal is the same: to provide comfort, dignity and compassionate care. An important part of achieving comfort comes from knowing your medical affairs are in order well in advance. Our social workers often assist patients with this, helping them create their advance directives.
The first step is to gather family members together for an important conversation. It’s a time to really listen to medical wishes. It’s a promise to carry out those wishes, should their loved ones become so ill they are unable to speak for themselves.
It is critical that all of us take the time to do this. We must choose someone we trust to be our voice, to advocate for us and make sure our wishes are followed.
Make your wishes known
Surprisingly, only about a quarter of us have made these health care decisions — the vast majority of Americans have not taken the time to draw up a living will or choose a medical power of attorney. It’s only natural to delay thinking about this topic, but it’s essential that we prepare ahead of time. Advance planning reduces stress and anxiety for ourselves and our loved ones.
“America is a death-denying culture, but death is part of the human experience,” says Carol Taylor, a professor of Medicine and Nursing and clinical scholar at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. “Advance directives are a gift people give their families. If they say, ‘Here is what I want,’ then they’re not pulling decisions out of nowhere,” says Taylor, who lectures on healthcare ethics internationally.
It saves families from disagreeing about the best course of action. They need only follow what their loved one said in their living will. There’s no second-guessing because it’s written down in black and white. And no regret years later because they are certain they fulfilled their loved one’s wishes.
“Do it now. We can be perfectly healthy and not wake up tomorrow for any one of a million reasons. So don’t wait,” Taylor advises. She firmly believes making healthcare decisions now is one of the most loving things we can do. “Spare your family anguish and let them know what your wishes are. A lot of peace comes from that — and that’s a gift.”
And it all starts with an honest conversation.