end of life planning

What happens when you can't speak for yourself?

It went like this..

me: "hey dad, thanks for having us over for dinner"

my dad: "just putting it out there for you, I'd like to be buried (...) and here (...) is where all the documents you may need are. What can I get you to drink?"

at another time with my mother..

me: "hey mom, glad the kids and I got a chance to come visit"

my mother: "good thing you're here. I just had copies of our wills made for you and your brother to have just in case."

This may not be normal dinner conversation for most families. I credit the openness in talking about death and planning to having a mother that has been a nurse for 40+ years. People are going to get sick and some may not make it through that illness. It may not even need to be that black or white. What if you went into the hospital and were unable to make decisions for yourself regarding your care? Who would you want to step in for you and do they truly know what you are OK, and more importantly, not OK with when it comes to medical intervention?

Before my daughter was born my husband and I took a series of "baby classes," ones that talked about labor and delivery, caring for a newborn, etc. The class that I was most interested was the c-section class. Purely because I knew relatively nothing about that procedure other than it resulted in a newborn baby. In that class they talked about different types of medications during labor and their relative effectiveness. During this class my husband leaned over and asked "do you want any of this stuff?"

I had no idea.

I was well on my way with this pregnancy and knew that I was going to deliver in a hospital, but hadn't thought about all the options or possibilities and what I was on board with. A few long months later- after a night and most of the day in labor, I literally could not make the decision for myself regarding medications. I remember mid contraction the midwife talking to my husband and asking him questions but I couldn't concentrate on what they were saying. Long story short- I woke up an hour later from a nap, with a clear head and the ability to continue (I did believe for a moment that I had somehow lucked into a 1950's birth and they just knocked me out and she was born... no such luck). That birthing class turned out to be invaluable. It sparked the conversation about what I wanted for myself at a time when I was able to clearly consider my options and decide what worked for me. It also created an opportunity for me to discuss these decisions with the person that was going to step in and make them. 

So what do newborn babies have to do with end of life planning? Lots, actually. Nothing helps address the elephant in the room (ie. mortality) like a new baby. It creates another link in the chain of generations, a glaring reminder that time is passing. You may have no idea what you're comfortable with medically in case of an emergency or you may know exactly where the line in the sand is. 

That's step one.

Step two, usually the hardest one- you have to tell someone.

Specifically, the person you want to step into that role should you need them to. We don't like to talk about these things because they are scary and overwhelming. Consider the alternative though- your family standing outside the hospital room trying to figure out what's right for you. Think about the burden of that position. What if you had four kids and they all thought they were doing what's best for you? These choices have a lasting impact on families, regardless of the outcome.  

These conversations don't have to be stiff and formal, sitting around a table at a lawyer's office. If you are not the type to discuss this consider writing a letter with your wishes in it. Tell the person who may need it where it is. Or better yet, go one step further and use an online template to create a will, sign it, and keep it in a safe place. 

While you have the time and ability to make these decisions for yourself- do it. Take the burden off your loved ones.