In the early eighties after having suffered a heart attack my grandmother wrote a letter. The letter outlined her wishes should she not make it through open heart surgery alive. She survived but kept the letter, and updated it with her signature every year, for more than twenty years. Her letter was an inexpensive, yet a heartfelt way to shape her legacy because her wishes were documented. She was profoundly spiritual; she believed in living for today and always making the best of what she had. She never wanted a large funeral, she wanted to be cremated, and she didn’t want sadness and crying; rather, she wanted us to celebrate her life. Some family members couldn’t understand why we had made some of the decisions, but we found solace in the fact that my grandmother’s wishes were honored, and who could argue with that?

Preplanning is a gift

Your end of life, and that of your loved one is divinely distinct. In fact, mortality is something each person will face in their lifetime and because you and your loved one will likely have varied but specific cultural, spiritual, and religious beliefs it is important that you document your wishes and the wishes of your loved one. The problem is that you may not feel comfortable talking about end of life care preferences, which means that you will likely miss the opportunity to shape your legacy. The choices you and your loved one make through preplanning can be helpful as you make complex medical decisions, and later as you cope, knowing that you have honored your loved one’s care preferences and end-of-life choices after he or she is gone.

Four Resources for Preplanning

The following are four valuable that you and your loved one may use for preplanning:

Take the End-of-LifeCare Quiz. Most people nearing the endof-life are not physically, mentally, or cognitively able to make their own decisions about treatment. As a result, advance care planning is essential to ensure that people receive care that reflects their values, goals, and informed preferences. Take this quiz to measure your current knowledge. 

Access the Five Wishes document. I remember a conversation with a very loving and devoted son, who cared for his mother while she was on hospice. When we met, it was many years after her passing, but the grief he experienced continued to be crushing. As we talked, he brought up concerns about doing the right thing in her last days. Had he given her too much pain medication? Did the interactions they shared offer enough support and comfort? After so many years had passed, and after such warm and loving support was provided, he was still questioning. This is where preplanning can be a real asset, so we do not have to focus on what should have been or what could have been. The Five Wishes can be used in any part of the world as a helpful guide and documentation of you and your loved one’s wishes. Completing Five Wishes is a gift to your family, friends and your doctor because it keeps them out of the difficult position of having to guess what kind of treatment you want or don’t want.

Listen to the recorded webinar titled Healthcare Advocacy: Fundamentals of Ethical Caregiving. A struggle in maintaining the integrity of healthcare lies in knowing how to apply ethical principles in stressful professional and family caregiver roles. This web seminar provides the framework for developing a holistic ethical caregiver strategy based on: applying a practical approach to ethics in healthcare; knowing the difference between types of neglect; making sure there are abuse-prevention services in one’s area; and learning the ethical roles of elder law attorneys in consulting aging clients and their families on end-of-life issues. 

Download the RightConversationstm  Bridging the Communications Gap Guide.Although it is up to you and your loved one to determine the right time to begin conversing about tips for effective communication when having a difficult conversation about the need for assistance with the activities of daily living. The guide also includes a valuable, step-by-step example of how to broach difficult topics while keeping the needs of your loved one in the forefront.  Although you cannot be prepared for everything, it is important that you take steps to ensure that you and your loved one have a solid plan in place for your future.  
I cannot say that everyone will believe as my grandmother did, nor do I believe everyone should. However, if you don’t plan, you leave it up to others to determine your destiny. When you are already stressed from grief and loss, the last thing you want to have to do is take a stand on end-of-life choices that could have already been settled. Preplanning frees the heart so that you can focus on healing. At the end of my grandmother’s service, with the saxophone playing, we released doves, which flew into the heavens. I believe, our hearts were freed that day.