Do I Have to Think About this Now?

In a recent conversation with one of our business-savvy friends, he said that he didn’t want to think about his death now, let alone talk about it. “I’m young and healthy. Why would I want to think about something that probably won’t happen for several more decades?”

It’s a common refrain in our conversations with people of good health and sound mind. We easily talk about our parents’ aging processes, their ailments, and their medical crises. We compare notes on juggling caregiving for elderly parents and running our own households with children, jobs, and activities. As our parents age, we might venture to imagine what life could be like when our parents are no longer with us. We don’t, however, imagine what life will be like for our sons and daughters, our partners and spouse, our friends – all whom we love – when our health changes due to medical crisis, accident/injury, or terminal diagnosis.

A palliative care physician whom I greatly respect once said that preparing for our own health decline (and death) by making and sharing our care preferences now may be the “last loving act we do for our loved ones”. We expect that we will have time to prepare for our deaths when we are older (by whatever number we use to define “older”). Yet few of us contemplate what will happen if an accident or illness renders us unable to communicate. So, just for a few minutes right now as you’re reading this, STOP and consider this scenario:

You have just been involved in a car accident. You are unresponsive as the ambulance delivers you to the local emergency department. Someone from the hospital calls your next-of-kin telling them to come to the emergency department right away. You are given no other status report over the phone.

  • Do you know what questions your loved ones might face upon receiving the call that you are unconscious in the emergency department?
  • What will your loved ones’ emotional states be?
  • Will they be able to think calmly and clearly about what you would do or say about what happens to you?
  • Will they hear and comprehend what the healthcare professionals are telling them?
  • Will they know what YOU want in this situation?
  • Can/will they carry out your wishes?

If your initial response to any of these questions is “I don’t know”, it is a good time to consider having a family conversation about expectations and decisions should a traumatic event (accident, work injury, etc.) occur. With this scenario, you can see that knowing a loved one’s wishes is important even when someone is “young and healthy” and not facing a terminal diagnosis or frail old age. This is why we do need to think about “this” now … and talk about it … and write down our wishes. Open communication about these kinds of “what if” scenarios can go a long way in helping our loved ones know what to do if that call comes from the emergency room, or the intensive care unit, or the oncology physician, etc.  Knowing what to do and when to do it can help ease the emotional burden of decision-making by eliminating the “did I do the right thing” questions.

Contact Caring Choices. We can help you contemplate the “what if” questions.

@ 2013 Caring Choices