Have you ever gotten one of those dreaded phone calls in the middle of the night? In my case, my father-in-law had suffered a heart attack and was in the ER. I remember holding my husband’s hand and praying in the car on our way to the hospital for more time with this man who meant so much to the entire family.
After tiresome days of tests and procedures, the doctors delivered awful news: Dad had suffered irreversible brain damage and was really “gone” already. When faced with the choice of whether or not to continue life support, Dad had given all of us a tremendous gift – his living will with specific instructions. Though there were many tears, we were unified in the decision to honor his wishes and discontinue care.
One “good” thing came out of this tragedy. My husband and I realized it was time to put our wishes down on paper, so our loved ones would also have comfort if they ever found themselves in a similar situation.
I’m sharing three steps we took to help make it easier for our family…
1. Have the conversation
The first step is to talk with your loved ones about specific healthcare decisions you’d prefer in the event you were unable to make the decisions yourself. Though the conversations are difficult, they have tremendous value in diminishing pain when families face choices later. It can also help unite everyone under the desires of a loved one rather than leaving such decisions to differing perspectives during times of emotional stress. Also, having the conversation and hearing someone else’s perspective on how they want to be treated in an end-of-life event helps you fully think through your answers.
2. Write it down
Once you’ve discussed what your wishes are, it’s time to get it in writing. Decide who will be the main person responsible for acting on your behalf. Make sure that person is aware and agrees to follow through with your wishes. Some people make the mistake of assuming their spouse or closest relative will “do the right thing.” I can tell you first hand, seeing the list of procedures Dad didn’t want (extensive, invasive intervention for hopeless outcome) was a loving gesture. He let us all know it was OK to stop treatment, let go and say goodbye.
3. Make it all legal
Once you’ve gotten it written down, it’s time to consult with an attorney. And don’t worry that you don’t have everything. A lawyer will have you answer multiple questions to ensure many different end-of-life situations are covered. We used a legal service included in my freshbenies membership. Having a legal advocate walk you through the difference between a living will and medical power of attorney is a tremendous help. I cannot begin to tell you the amount of time we saved by having an expert guide us through everything. You can spend hours trying to use online services, but consulting with someone who knows and understands the specific laws in your state is priceless.
The peace of mind that comes with having all of our choices documented for future “what if” moments is invaluable for me and for my family. And I am so thankful my father-in-law led the way in this area of caring for our family.
Now it’s your turn! Have you experienced the confusion of not knowing a loved one’s wishes, or the relief of having their wishes outlined? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.