April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day. This national collaborative initiative exists as an effort to bring to light an issue that affects all Americans, no matter age or stage of life. The chosen theme this year is “It Always Seems Too Early, Until It’s Too Late.” As a society, we tend to push off these difficult conversations with a rationale of “I’ll think about that later” or “If I talk about, it might actually happen.” But the truth is we need to talk about these issues now while we can, before we are faced with a health-related crisis.
There is no place where this is more apparent than in hospice care. I have met so many families over the years that agonize over making end of life decisions on behalf of a loved one because they have never had any conversations about their wishes. Now they are faced with a crisis situation and decisions need to be made, often with little or no advance notice. It is in these moments that people literally have to make life and death decisions that they are unprepared to make. I have seen families struggle with the aftermath of regret and complicated grief over decisions that were made in times of crisis.
The good news is that much of this anguish is avoidable. Death is not avoidable. Suffering is not avoidable. Grief is not avoidable. But clarity and confidence in decision making is made easier when conversations have been had ahead of time and a plan is in place that honors the wishes of a terminally ill person. But what exactly does that mean?
Completing an advance care plan is actually quite simple and involves 3 easy steps. Often times, just getting started is the hardest part.
Step 1: Think about your values and what is important to you.
This will look different for everyone. Some people only want to be comfortable; others want to fight until their last dying breath. Take some time to really think about what you want the end of your life to look like. What are the most important things to you? What will your legacy be?
Step 2: Talk to your loved ones about your wishes.
Sometimes people get stuck in this step. They think about what they want (or don’t want) but never share it with anyone. Don’t get me wrong, I know these conversations are emotionally trying and difficult to have. However, it will be so much easier for your loved ones to make decisions on your behalf when they know what your wishes are and feel confident that they are honoring your values. Find the courage to start the conversation and encourage your loved ones to share with you their wishes as well.
Step 3: Document your decisions
Completion of a written advance directive is the final and most important step. By doing this, you will know with certainty that your wishes will be followed in the event that you cannot make decisions for yourself. There are many different options and tools to choose from. Refer to the links at the end of this article to help you get started.
A wise person once said this famous truth —“No one is getting out of here alive.” As much as we don’t always want to talk about it, it is crucially important that we do so. Ongoing education and community initiatives like National Healthcare Decisions Day provide us with opportunities to break down these barriers, making end of life conversations just a normal part of life rather than a scary and avoided topic. I challenge everyone who has not completed an advance care plan to do it now. Don’t wait until it is too late. If you have already completed these steps, use National Healthcare Decisions Day as a time to educate your family, friends and anyone who will listen on the importance of advance care planning. Remember, It Always Seems Too Early, Until It’s Too Late.
Important Links for further discussion:
If you have any questions regarding this topic or would like more information, please feel free to contact Sara Dado directly at 847-515-1505 or visit our website at www.transitionshospice.com.
Written by Sara Dado, LCSW-VP of Compliance and Ancillary Services
Sara has been a practicing LCSW in the field of health care for over 18 years, with experience in policy development, elder law, home health, skilled nursing and hospice. She is a tireless advocate for quality end of life care through community outreach and education. She has also been a speaker at both national and state wide conferences on the topic of improving the conversation regarding hospice care and is an expert in advanced care planning.