Who Will Speak for You When You Can’t?

April 16th is National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD), a reminder to us all, no matter what age, of the importance of advance care planning.

While it never feels like a “good time” to talk about your wishes regarding end-of-life care, this day is designed to get the conversation rolling with your family and loved ones, and urge you to create or update your existing advance care directives.

Advance care planning is not a one-and-done ordeal; conversations about your care in the event that you cannot make decisions for yourself should be ongoing, as your thoughts, beliefs, and relationships change throughout life. Advance care directives are the legal “in-writing” articulation of these desires and should be updated to reflect any changes in your plans.

Different states may have different legal requirements and there are plenty of resources to help you get started on making these decisions official. As you begin this conversation, here are some examples of what you may want your loved ones to know:

Who you trust to make decisions about your care, if you can’t

You definitely want to be sure to keep this one up-to-date. Check-in with the person(s) you’ve appointed periodically to make sure they’re still the right fit.

Treatments or medical interventions that you may or may not want

Everyone has different beliefs when it comes to the measures we take to keep on living; it may help to have conversations about how you define quality of life and what medical interventions you feel conflict with that definition.

How your body should be cared for after death

Of course this is an important detail for everyone to include, but it could be particularly crucial to have this information easily accessible depending on your identity and beliefs.

The religion you practice may have particular rituals or rules surrounding death- if it’s important to you for those to be observed, make it known and be specific.

Similarly, if you are part of the LGBTQIA+ community and it is important to you to be presented and referred to in a specific way, ensure that this is in writing, too.

It may be beneficial to make sure that the person you choose to carry out your wishes supports these vital pieces of your identity, so they will make sure you are honored appropriately.

Planning for death and dying doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. In fact, when we enter into these conversations with a positive attitude, it can be quite the opposite! This is an opportunity to talk to your loved ones about what is most important to you in life, and it’s also an opportunity for empowerment.

Plan for you

Being involved in difficult decision-making ahead of time is empowering and freeing, both for the person planning and the persons carrying out those plans. It’s important to do this type of planning when you are in good physical health and have a clearer state of mind.

Having a plan in place, on the other hand, can ease uncertainties and anxieties you may have now and help you feel better cared for and listened to later on.

Plan for your loved ones

Advance care planning also has a positive impact on your loved ones. When we give our families and loved ones explicit instruction, write out our wishes, and make those documents accessible, we give them the gift of decisiveness and peace.

They can feel good about making difficult decisions regarding your care – because they are your decisions. And you can feel good about that. By planning ahead, you are setting them up for success and potentially lowering their risk of experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety.

The Death Positive Movement

There is a whole movement dedicated to having these open and honest conversations about death and dying. Several of the major tenets of this movement directly support having conversations about your end-of-life care and can serve as affirming mantras as you prepare for NHDD. Let’s look at them together.

The third tenet of the Death Positive Movement makes for an excellent argument against avoiding the topic, especially if that argument is against yourself.

“I believe that talking about and engaging with my inevitable death is not morbid, but displays a natural curiosity about the human condition.”

The fifth tenet reminds us that your end-of-life plans should reflect your identity, your values, and your beliefs.

“I believe that the laws that govern death, dying and end-of-life care should ensure that a person’s wishes are honored, regardless of sexual, gender, racial, or religious identity.”

The seventh tenet is perhaps the most fitting in this time of planning – stressing the importance of documentation.

“I believe that my family and friends should know my end-of-life wishes, and that I should have the necessary paperwork to back-up those wishes.”

May you find encouragement and enlightenment here. Have you signed yours? See Five Wishes to get started.

Photo credit: Yan Krukov, via Pexels