Hospice Is Hope Learning to face your mortality

By lin sue cooney

April 16 is not just another day on your calendar. This year, it also happens to be National Healthcare Decisions Day. A day when people in all 50 states are encouraged to do some end of life planning.

Before you stop reading, just let this sink in: none of us knows how much time we have.

Advance directives force us to face our mortality, but also give us a gift—peace of mind.

It’s a lot easier to make decisions when they’re hypothetical and you can calmly discuss your wishes without a medical emergency bearing down on you. Being proactive saved Julie Bresnahan a lot of anguish. She and her husband Michael had made a plan long before he was diagnosed with dementia.

“The vascular dementia came on so slowly, I didn’t really think it was something serious,” she says. “But it wasn’t long before his decision-making ability was impaired. So, I was very grateful we did advance directives years and years ago, because everything was in place.”

As Michael’s dementia advanced, Julie clung to his written wishes—which clearly expressed no desire for extraordinary measures, just comfort care. It was a huge relief, not to wonder if she should try experimental treatments or any number of medications to alter the course of the disease.

“I know what he wants, and I don’t have any angst over it. I don’t have a moment’s concern. No guilt. No confusion. Nothing. It’s just peaceful. It comforts me to know what he wants and that’s what we’re doing.”

Health care decisions involve three actionable items:

First, make a living will.

Second, choose a medical power of attorney who will advocate for you in case you’re incapacitated.

And last, talk to your family about your wishes long before an accident or illness occurs.

Having not one, but several, open and honest conversations is critical, so every family member understands from the beginning—exactly what you want.

Julie believes planning ahead is an extraordinary kindness for loved ones. “It’s not quite so painful for them, so they don’t question right at the end—is this the right thing?”

She even suggests breaking the news with positivity and excitement.

“Tell them, we have done this amazing thing. We have made out our advanced directives and we want to share it with you, so you know what we want. Rather than be frightened by it—celebrate it maybe. It might help families understand a little bit better.”

So, put April 16 on your calendar. And then remember to start the conversation.

When you’re ready for the forms, Hospice of the Valley provides them free of charge. For the last 18 years, we’ve handed out living will and medical power of attorney forms to anyone in the community. Just give us a call at 602-222-2229 or visit hov.org and type “healthcare decisions” in the search bar.