Eliminate Drama with Advance Directives
Back in December I saw a Facebook post of a picture of a church sign that read, “Christmas Drama”. My friend had posted, “No thanks. I’ll pass.”, not because she’s anti-Christmas but because she’s anti-drama. I hope your holiday season was drama-free, but I know that for some it wasn’t. The biggest source of holiday drama is family. Emotions and stress levels are high during the holidays, so conflicts and hurt feelings are easily aroused.
This is exponentially true around the death of a family member too. Nothing spikes emotions and stress levels like an emergency life-or-death situation. Sometimes we find ourselves facing such a situation because of an unexpected tragedy, like a car accident. Other times we may be surprised at how quickly our health or the health of a loved one can decline due to illness. How would you feel if you were critically ill and your family was fighting over who should make healthcare decisions for you? How would you feel if someone you loved, maybe your spouse, parent or child, needed you to make decisions for them and other family members were arguing against what you thought was best? What if you had no idea what was best? If you don’t want family drama to follow you to your deathbed, I have a little advice for you.
First, we have to acknowledge that none of us are immortal. Consider some common scenarios that occur daily across America in hospital emergency rooms. Be honest with yourself that one day it could happen to you or someone you love. Think about what kind of care and medical interventions you would want if you were unable to speak for yourself. Put your wishes in a written document called an Advance Directive, either a Living Will or a Power of Attorney for Healthcare. You can get these from any healthcare provider, a hospice, or online. You’ll need a witness to sign your document.
Second, have “the conversation”. Tell your family you’ve thought about this and what it is you would want them to do on your behalf. You’ll need to choose someone you trust to advocate for you if you are unable to speak for yourself someday. This should be a two-way conversation for family members. Learn each other’s wishes and make a commitment to honor them, even if it’s not what you would choose for them. This may not sound like the most fun family activity you’ve ever considered, but I assure you nothing is less fun than a feud around a hospital bed.
Lastly, give copies of your Advanced Directives to your doctor and someone you trust to honor your wishes. Carry a card in your wallet that simply says “Advance Directive on file” with the contact names and numbers of those who hold copies. If an accident or illness threatens to shorten a life, families need to rally together. Having confidence that they are doing what their loved one wants helps unite them.
Angelia Neumann is the director of development and communications for the Sharon S. Richardson Community Hospice.