One Of The Greatest Gifts You Could Ever Give Your Family


It was heart wrenching to receive a phone call from a friend who had to stand between her two brothers in the hospital waiting room last night. Her two brothers were ready to fight outside of the Intensive Care Unit where their mother lay on a ventilator. For three days my friend's family gathered as they heard the news of her weakening condition. As the family got together they started picking sides as to continue the ventilator or not.

Her mother had lived by herself since her husband died suddenly a year earlier and no one realized that her husband had been taking care of her. In the past year her condition worsened. She had emergency surgery last week after a fall and was not recovering. Her family was still reeling from the death of their father and was having a hard time realizing that now their mom was dying.

Unfortunately, her mother had no Advance Directives, so her family was fighting instead of following her end of life wishes.

Advance Directives include a Living Will and a Designation of Health Care Surrogate.

So now you may be thinking I have a Living Will, I am all set. Not so fast. The Mayo Clinic Healthy Lifestyle Consumer health website, states

"A living will can't cover every possible situation. Therefore, you might also want a medical POA to designate someone to be your health care agent. This person will be guided by your living will but has the authority to interpret your wishes in situations that aren't described in your living will.

A medical POA also might be a good idea if your family is opposed to some of your wishes or is divided about them. Choosing a person to act as your health care agent is possibly the most important part of your planning. You need to trust that this person has your interests at heart, understands your wishes and will act accordingly. He or she should also be mature and levelheaded, and comfortable with candid conversations. Don't pick someone out of feelings of guilt or obligation.

Your health care agent doesn't necessarily have to be a family member. You may want your health care decision maker to be different from the person you choose to handle your financial matters. It may be helpful, but it's not necessary, if the person lives in the same city or state as you do."

So in this case with my friend's mother, there is no Living Will and no medical POA or Health Care Surrogate. Therefore, no one that knows what her wishes are or to ensure that her wishes are carried out.

Recently an Irish family friend friend was very ill and dying. Her Health Care Surrogate was her brother in Ireland. We were on pins and needles waiting for him to get here. It would be wise to select a Health Care Surrogate that is at least in the same country.

Compare the earlier hospital fist fight to another friend who lost her father last year. When her father was found unresponsive in bed late at night, emergency 911 was called. He was given CPR, taken to the hospital, where it was discovered that he had a stroke and was put on a ventilator.

The doctors confirmed that there was no brain activity. His Fives Wishes Advanced Directives were in his medical records, at his doctor's office and with his family members. The family gathered knowing that his Living Will stated:

" If my doctor and another health care professional both decide that I am likely to die within a short period of time, and life-support treatment would only delay the moment of my death, I do not want life life-support treatment. If it has been started, I want it stopped."

So he was removed from the ventilator. His family calmly remained at his bedside while he died in peace.

Five Wishes is a living will that takes into consideration your personal, emotion and spiritual needs as well.

The Five Wishes basically are:
1. Who you want to make health care decisions for you when you can't make them.
2. The kind of medical treatment you want or don't want.
3. How comfortable you want to be.
4. How you want people to treat you.
5. What you want your loved ones to know.

The Five Wishes can be easily completed online, downloaded or ordered as a booklet at

The forms do not need to be prepared by a lawyer. You may change or update your wishes at anytime by disposing of the last directives and replacing them with the new. Once your Five Wishes have been drawn up make sure all interested parties have a copy including your doctor, hospital, family members, far and near.

As the holiday season nears and our thoughts turn to gift giving, give your family your Five Wishes and the peace of mind knowing the your final wishes are known and will be carried out. Also make sure that you have the conversation with your parents and children so they can have peace of mind too!

Aileen is a fourth generation caregiver. She shares 25 years of care giving experience at -- Support for caregivers.

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