David Attenborough once said, “You can cry about death and very properly so, your own as well as anybody else’s. But it’s inevitable, so you’d better grapple with it and cope and be aware that not only is it inevitable, but it has always been inevitable, if you see what I mean.”
Every person is acutely aware of their own mortality and the inevitability of it, however few make their wishes known regarding how they want the end of their life to look.
Statistical studies show that, although individuals indicate that having plans in place and their wishes known or documented regarding end-of-life care is of high importance, few have taken the steps necessary to document it or have initiated those difficult conversations with their loved ones.
Consider these statistics:
• 92% of Americans say it’s important to discuss their wishes for end-of-life care, yet only 32% have had such a conversation (The Conversation Project National Survey, 2018).
• 95% of Americans say they would be willing to talk about their wishes, with 53% reporting they’d be relieved to discuss it (The Conversation Project National Survey, 2018).
• 21% of people say they haven’t had the conversation because they don’t want to upset their loved ones (The Conversation Project National Survey, 2018).
• 80% of people say that is seriously ill, they would want to talk to their doctor about wishes for medical treatment toward the end of their life. Yes only 18% report having had this conversation with their doctor (The Conversation Project National Survey, 2018).
• 97% of people say it’s important to put their wishes in writing; 37% have done so (The Conversation Project National Survey, 2018).
With so many people reporting that having their wishes known regarding end of life care is of such importance, why do they not take the steps to communicate them? Why is death and creating a beautiful final chapter of one’s life a taboo topic? Failing to have these conversations can lead to scary or unpleasant end of life experiences and force one’s family to make difficult decisions, hoping it is what their loved one would have wanted.
End of life conversations need to be had with many different people when one is planning for this chapter of their life. The first, and possibly most important conversation one has, is with themselves. Introspection and self-reflection need to occur so one can accurately determine what their wishes truly are.
Next, one should talk to their loved ones. It is important to explain to them what matters most regarding end of life care. Ideally, this conversation should take place before a medical crisis has occurred. For some writing a letter may be easier. Others may prefer a conversation.
While it may be a difficult topic to broach, one can open the conversation by saying something to the effect of, “I’ve been thinking about the future and I’d like to make some plans. Would you help me?” During these conversations, a health care proxy should be identified. A health care proxy is someone who can make decisions on behalf one an individual regarding his or her medical care if they become unable to do so. Meeting with a lawyer to finalize the appropriate legal and medical documents such as an Advance Directives, Health Care Proxy, and living will is recommended.
Finally, a conversation should take place with a doctor. Learning about where one stands regarding their health, what the future may hold and communicating their wishes can help doctors determine what treatment options are appropriate.
While death may be inevitable for everyone, an individual can control what their final chapter looks like to a certain extent. And although these types of conversations may be uncomfortable initially, they can provide individuals and their loved ones with more peace of mind in the end.
Michelle Craig is administrator for Green House Living for Sheridan.