My oldest nephew is in 8th grade this year. I’ve lived across the country for more than 5 years now and every time I’m back home and see him, he’s changed. He’s getting taller, he’s putting on some muscle, his voice was cracking, but now it’s just lower. He’s going through puberty, which is around the time parents have “the talk” with their kid.
You know which one I’m talking about. The one that has been played out in movies and books for generations. That uncomfortable conversation you have with your once child, but soon to be teenager. Some call it the “birds and the bees”, but whatever name you provide it, awkward is usually how it’s described.
But what many forget, or perhaps they’re simply unaware, is that there is a second talk that occurs later on in life between children and their parents. And this conversation is not any less awkward, because the question you need answered is going to stir up some emotions.
How do your parents want to die?
We don’t like to talk about death. Some say it’s morbid or perhaps they don’t want to tempt anything, but how to die decisions are just as important as how to live decisions.
Need a real life example? Watch the short documentary Extremis on Netflix.
This film is under 30 minutes, and follows an ICU floor with terminally ill patients. It’s raw and captures the emotional drama of an ICU. It provides a glimpse at the decisions the staff and the patient’s families have to make in those end of life situations.
I would recommend everyone to take the time and watch this film. And while you are watching it, ask yourself these three questions…
Does my family know what I would want?
Who do I want to make decisions when I can’t?
If I’m lucky enough to have a say, how do I want to die?
It may feel weird to think about this, and trust me, I know a lot of people do not. But, when you suddenly receive a call from a hospital and you’re being told by a doctor, “We need you up here immediately, there’s been an accident…”
Are you ready to make those decisions? Is your family ready to make them? The point being, if you’re not prepared, it can become an impossible situation to manage. So do yourself, and tu familia a favor and take the steps needed to make this part of life a little less hard. If you’re curious on what that would entail, use this next section as a guide.
Living Wills and Medical Power of Attorney
Remember that first question I told you to ask yourself when you watched Extremis? It was, does my family know what I want? One way to take out the guesswork is with something called a living will.
A living will is a legal document that informs the medical staff of your healthcare wishes if you were ever incapacitated. This document should contain information on topics like resuscitation, a desired quality of life, and end of life treatment. You should be as specific as possible, but know going in you can’t cover everything.
If you’re not sure where to start, I would contact your primary care doctor with any questions. Your local hospital will most likely have forms there as well. A quick Google search brings back a lot of links with information too. Basically, there’s no excuse NOT to have one. And when you think about the peace of mind it could provide to your loved ones, it’s a no brainer.
But of course, a living will cannot cover every possible scenario. Which is why I asked you to think about a second question, who do I want to make decisions when I can’t?
The living will is created so YOU have a say, but when something falls outside of the living will, you’ll need a medical power of attorney (POA) to make those decisions. It’s important to remember, your medical POA can NOT contradict your living will. They are there to fill in when something is not covered in your living will.
As I mentioned above, every hospital will probably have their own living will (aka healthcare directive aka advanced directive) forms available. Most hospitals will have a notary public on staff as well so you can have them notarized on location.
But let me provide a quick cautionary tale about waiting until the last second and doing everything at the hospital.
I, myself, am a notary. I am commissioned by our state to perform the role of witnessing signatures and confirming identities of the signers. And I have been asked on more than one occasion to a patient’s room to notarize documents.
Let me tell you something, when you’re in a patient’s room and the patient is unresponsive or confused, and you are being asked by their family to notarize a document (like a POA or living will) – that makes me really nervous. And is a guaranteed “no”.
I have worked with other notaries on staff who had to give a deposition in court cases after the patient has passed away. That doesn’t sound like fun. And we really want to honor the patient’s wishes, but if they can’t communicate that to me, I don’t feel comfortable putting my name on that document.
So don’t put someone in a position to say “no”. Take care of this stuff before you even come to the hospital, then next time you are there, give them copies of your living will and POA. They’ll be happy to keep those in your medical record.
The final question I asked you to think about was this, how do I want to die? At your home? In a hospital? On a machine? I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, it’s just that you have one and have shared it with people you love. If you have 20 minutes to spare, I recommend you check out this TED talk by Dr. B.J. Miller, a palliative care physician. His talk is about end of life treatment and what options we have and why it can influence how we live. It’s fantastic in that makes you think about life kinda way. Which are thoughts I think we spend entirely too little on today, but that’s another post.
(If you enjoyed the TED Talk, check out his interview on the Tim Ferriss podcast here)
One of my favorite artists once said, “It’s always easier to leave, than to be left”, and that quote has stuck with me ever since. When losing a loved one, the focus at the end should be on love, comfort, and finding peace. Do your part to help your loved ones out and make sure your wishes are clear and known. Easiest way to do this is by having a living will and medical power of attorney. Eliminate potential family disputes, but most importantly have a say in your life, even at the end. Plus, it shows your family how to responsibly handle this part of the journey, so be the example.
And adult children of today, your loved ones will be approaching you one day asking these same questions. Practice what you preach and have it prepared for them. Death is a guarantee in this world. There’s literally no way getting around it. We can still help during that part of our life, but it takes a little action today.
Until next time…