"...in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." -- Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789
Maybe it is an American thing. Or maybe it is just a human thing. We really don't like facing the unpleasant certainties in life. Death and taxes are perhaps the most common subject of our avoidance. But I remember that even when I was pregnant, I became an expert in ignoring the fact that the pregnancy would result in a painful birth before I would hold my daughter in my arms.
We have learned -- we prepare for taxes; receipts, forms, files, deductions. We prepare for the pain of childbirth; Lamaze, Kiegel, What To Expect When You Are Expecting.
The one holdout is death. Still today, in 2013, we do not prepare ourselves and our families for the one thing we will all face -- dying. Yet even though life expectancy has grown over the recent years, we are all experiencing the deaths of more family members than ever in history. As we witness these deaths, so many of us say, "Oh if I ever get that way, please just pull the plug." But in reality there is no plug and do we ever talk about what that really means?
Preparing for death is as simple as having a conversation with the right people at the right time. The right people are those whom you will trust to understand what you want and what you fear and will be certain your voice prevails when you may not be able to speak. The right time is now. You have all your papers in order from filing your taxes. Take the next step. Don't wait until you are old. Don't wait until you are sick. Don't wait until you are in pain or fear. Make the conversation part of your life every year on April 16th, National Healthcare Decisions Day, knowing that your thoughts may change. Sixty percent of people say making sure their family is not burdened by tough decisions is "extremely important," but 56 percent have not communicated their end-of-lifewishes.
Think about who would make decisions on your behalf if you were unable, or whether you would want to be resuscitated if your heart stopped, or what should happen to you if you were no longer able to breathe on your own. Most often at the end of life, families are left to make decisions without the solace of knowing the guiding principles of the dying individual. There is a basic human instinct to survive, to fight, yet often when it comes to the end of life it is not the dying person fighting to stay alive, but the living family that is fighting death. There are also the financial aspects to consider -- will your spouse able to pay your bills if you are gone? Do you have enough money saved to cover medical expenses? How will your family afford the funeral? The mortgage?
That's why we honor National Healthcare Decisions Day on April 16; it was created to inspire and educate patients and providers about the importance of advance care planning. This year, The Conversation Project, a national social campaign dedicated to ensuring everyone's end-of-life wishes are voiced and respected, has partnered with National Healthcare Decisions Day and TheNational Association of Tax Professionals to offer the necessary resources to facilitate these important health, lifestyle and financial conversations.
One such resource is the Starter Kit, a portable guide to having the conversation about end-of-life wishes with loved ones. After you've had this conversation with loved ones, you might also consider downloading the How to Talk to Your Doctor Kit, which helps you communicate wishes and plan with a medical professional.
Other questions you can ask your loved ones to prepare yourselves for the future include:
- Would you prefer to be actively involved in decisions about your care?
- Or would you rather have your doctors do what they think is best?
- Where do you want (or not want) to receive care?
- What kinds of aggressive treatment would you want (or not want)?
- Are your finances in order?
- Do you have a health care proxy?
- Have you created a living will?
After you've had these conversations and know your wishes, the next step is to put them down in writing for example, through an advance health care directive form. The National Healthcare Decisions Day website offers direct access to forms, available here.
This National Healthcare Decision's day, take your future into your own hands. Don't wait until it's too late.