What is “Advance Care Planning” and why is it important for me and my family?

When most people think of advance care planning, thoughts of Living Wills and Powers of Attorney likely come to mind; along with the thought that the production of these documents need not happen until one is in their 60s or older.

Caring Choices does not discount the fact that writing down healthcare choices is important.  However, we are interested in beginning caring conversations with people much earlier in their lives, when they are younger (but at least 18) and in good health.  This story about Cindy’s experience with her Dad’s final hours may help illustrate the point that it’s never too early to have caring conversations with people you love — it may ease the burden of decision-making in difficult situations.

“When I was 30 years old, my Dad had a heart attack on the eve of Mom’s birthday (he was only 66).  Four days later, he had a second attack that sent him via helicopter from one rural hospital to a larger hospital for emergency procedures in an attempt to get his heart pumping and blood flowing again.  While my Mom, my brother and I sat in the cardiac surgery waiting room, the lead cardiologist sat with us and asked if Dad was an organ donor.  He followed that statement with “We have a limited window to make a decision about harvesting any viable organs.”  Looking back, I know that he had a job to do; but in that moment 20 years ago, learning that Dad was not going to make it was the most devastating news I’d ever had to absorb.  Trying to come to an important decision in the midst of tears and emotional upheaval was challenging, to say the least.

As a family, we had never had conversations that answered the “what if” questions that so often occur when a medical crisis or traumatic event occurs.  The only option we had that day in making a heart-wrenching decision was to examine how Dad lived his life — always in service to others, lending a helping hand or a kind word, and with a faith that his physical body would not be needed in whatever lay beyond death.  Because we understood Dad’s values and beliefs, we were able to make a family decision in an emotionally raw setting to allow his organs to be used in service to others.

The fact that we had to “guess” at what choice(s) Dad might have made got Mom thinking.  A few weeks after Dad’s funeral, she told me that she did not want my brother and me to struggle with such complex decisions in caring for her as she aged.  We began talking about the kind of care she would want (and would NOT want) as her lung condition (COPD) worsened.  Mom also talked about other medical maladies that “could” happen and she shared the kinds of things she would consider “worse than death”.  She wrote everything down in the necessary legal documents.  But, more importantly, we talked with her pulmonary doctor together and helped him understand the kind of care that was important to Mom.

When Mom’s health declined (not quite five years after Dad died), I knew what she wanted and I could more comfortably and confidently advocate for her choices to be honored.  While it was still hard to say goodbye to Mom, I knew that her path was of her own choosing and that knowledge eliminated any burden or guilt I may have otherwise felt in making treatment and care decisions on her behalf.”

If you would like to begin your family conversation, please contact us at Caring Choices.  We will be honored to help you take the first steps in what may eventually become your most loving final acts for those you love.

© 2013 Caring Choices