It’s not uncommon for many of us to spend untold hours planning everything from graduation parties to weddings to vacations. But fewer than one-third of American adults have a plan in place that addresses how they want to live out their last days and informs their final arrangements. This absence in planning forces loved ones to make difficult decisions during already difficult times. Organizations such as Emmanuel Hospice know firsthand the stress these kinds of decisions can cause. That’s why the organization partners with Making Choices Michigan to honor National Healthcare Decisions Day, which is set annually on April 16, the day after taxes are typically due. Conversations are encouraged at any point throughout the following week. “It’s a day set aside to inspire, educate and empower the public and healthcare providers like ourselves about the importance of advance care planning to address life’s final chapter,” says Sara Lowe, executive director of Emmanuel Hospice.
“We’re recognizing a growing movement that’s inviting more Americans to have a conversation and then create a plan that leaves nothing to chance, especially in those instances when you can no longer speak for yourself.” Carol Robinson, the community coordinator for Making Choices Michigan, has witnessed what a difference it can make for people to have advance care planning in place ahead of their death. “It’s all about examining choices,” Robinson says. “When we help people initiate conversations about what matters most to them and help them compare those values to their wide range of choices, their eyes are opened. They’re suddenly eager to plan what the rest of a good life looks like.” The conversation, she says, is about how they describe quality of life. Those values and beliefs help people evaluate what treatment choices would most align with their preferences for care. Once people take the time to line up a patient advocate who’ll be trusted to carry out final wishes, “they walk away feeling a lot more empowered.” Making Choices Michigan helps individuals and families “discuss, decide and document.”
Robinson says creating an advance care plan isn’t just for the older and infirm. “By the time my own daughter was 20, two of her best friends were dead,” she says. “If you think it’s tough saying goodbye to someone who’s 85 or 90, imagine teens or people in their 20s — and all the choices that are suddenly before you,” Robinson says it’s pained her to see how some families bicker and even splinter as a result of disagreeing how to honor a loved one in death. This extends to everything from what lifesaving measures to utilize, to what sort of music might be played during a final service. Robinson says it’s smarter to have a plan in place rather than allowing a medical staff to revert to a “default plan” that automatically employs all the medical technology available. Doctors and nurses, says Robinson, often don’t know the person, and so can’t take the person’s values and beliefs into account when making decisions. But a patient advocate, armed with an advance care planning document, is more effective in negotiating those choices because they represent what the patient pre-determined.
Want to map out your own destiny? Go online to makingchoicesmichigan.org. The organization has facilitators who can guide a conversation leading to the creation of an advance directive tailored to your specific needs. The service is free. Get more information at emmanuelhospice.org.