On September 22, 2022, my wife, Donna, and I attended a life-changing event. Actually, it was an end-of-life changing event for us. We participated in Light the Legacy’s educational and fundraising event called End of Life Lessons where Brenda Hartman, MSW, and Anne McIntosh, MD, along with The Theater of Public Policy discussed the importance of establishing and maintaining Health Care Directives. While these are often difficult conversations to have, they equipped participants with the tools necessary to approach end-of-life issues in a serious, yet fun approach.
For decades, Donna and I have proudly shared that we have Wills, Health Care Directives and other end-of-life documents in place. But after participating in Light the Legacy’s event, we realized that those documents had not been updated since the late ‘90’s! We created those documents when our children, Rebecca and Alex, were quite young. Now that they are adults, we needed to heed the recommendations shared by the presenters and update our documents.
Shortly after the event, I went to Light the Legacy’s website and downloaded the Health Care Directive template. I spent several hours over several days collecting my thoughts, articulating my wishes, and documenting my desires of how I would want my family – my health care agents – to fulfill my end-of-life wishes if I was unable to articulate them for myself.
After completing a draft of my Health Care Directive, it was time to talk with my family about it. As it so happened, both of my kids were coming up from their homes in The Cities to visit us for dinner one Sunday evening. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to spring the topic of my death on them! So somewhere between the main course and dessert, I brought up the topic of my end-of-life wishes. Was this the perfect time to segue to this topic? Probably not, but is there ever a perfect time? I think anytime your loved ones are together is the perfect time to have important conversations.
I explained that Donna would be my primary Health Care Agent. Alex would be my secondary agent. Rebecca would be my tertiary agent. Through the course of our conversation, we realized that no document could account for every scenario, but the gift of our conversation was understanding my desire and my philosophy on life…and death. I told them that (for me) quality of life was far more important to me than quantity of life.
It was definitely an emotional conversation. At times, forks were placed on the table while napkins wiped away tears. But the gift of the moment was the conversation. Donna and I have extensive backgrounds as healthcare professionals and we thought we were perfectly aligned in end-of-life matters, but it became apparent that she would be more aggressive in treatments and interventions for me than I would want. Because of our conversations, we understand what my wishes are for me at my end-of-life. I am confident that my family will honor my choices if I am unable to articulate them for myself.
After that conversation, I took my Health Care Directive, had it notarized, and distributed copies to my Health Care Agents and my primary care provider. Another interesting outcome occurred from that dinnertime conversation. That night I slept really well knowing this important and difficult conversation was behind me…at least until it’s time to update my Health Care Directive again!
I haven’t stopped there. I’m actually starting to document my funeral plans. I’m listing out which scripture readings I’d prefer, which songs I’d like played, which outfit I’d like to be buried in, and as many other details that I can document. Why? Because if I can help my loved ones with some of these decisions, I’m happy to take that burden off their shoulders.
Topics related to death and dying can be difficult to have and easily avoided. But I often tell friends and family that if you care about those who will be left to make those decisions when you can’t, planning is the best gift you can offer them.
Regarding my Health Care Directive, I’m happy to say I Did It!