When we talk about advanced planning -- whether we are looking at it from the perspective of planning for ourselves, or we are helping our parents plan for potential long-term care or aging in place needs, we often use the term, "honoring wishes." As those planning for ourselves, we hope our wishes are honored and we can put the plans and documentation in place to help others make decisions on our behalf if needed. As children of our parents who are planning, our hope is to know how to honor their requests based on what they truly want, not what we think they could or might want - medically, financially and legally.
But here in lies the problem. For some of us, we don't even know where to begin when it comes to putting together our wish list. Afterall, we don't know what the future holds. How do you plan for something that may not even happen? We aren't doctors or medical staff. How do we even begin to understand areas we may have never experienced, or know what it could feel like to go through potential procedures to know if we would even want them or not.
Sure, we may have a good idea of what items we might want to pass down, or how to setup our finances and wills. That is pretty straightforward. But when it comes to making medical decisions we get into unknown territory. Do we really understand what we are asking our loved ones to do for us? And if we don't understand and document it accordingly - how can we possibly hope those we designate to manage our care understand?
So many people leave it up to their family members to guess how they want to be treated during a hospitalization or incident that might result in the inability to make our own decisions. We trust our loved ones. We believe they will have our best interests at heart - they love us, they will look out for us. But that love may be the very thing that causes us potentially unwanted suffering through excruciating procedures. Modern and Western Medicinal cultures are relentless when it comes to providing hope and working toward a miracle - no matter the cost or potential suffering of the patient. Because we don't know, we blindly trust our medical providers to do whatever it takes to save our loved ones or extend our lives -- whether we want it or not and despite potential current circumstances.
One of the most difficult yet important conversations any family can have is around choice and preference when it comes to QUALITY vs. QUANTITY of life. It's easy for us to say, "do whatever it takes to save me for as long as possible now..." and it might be that simple for some people. But for others, especially those living with chronic or terminal conditions, there are additional considerations that need to be made.
One of the best ways to have this discussion with the ones you love is to use the resource, "I'll Have it God's Way - Living Fully Now and Into Your Future." This guide written by Hattie Bryant with a video based, 6-session bible study goes over exactly what all needs to be considered when it comes to making out your wish list. For those that prefer a non-religious approach, Bryant's sister publication, "I'll Have it My Way" is also an option. Both are available on Amazon or other online bookstores.
In this study, Bryant helps us to understand our healthcare choices and the limits of modern medicine; we can also learn that there is a gentle path to making out our wish list. It also provides detailed instructions for how to choose a health-care proxy and provides special instructions to give your loved ones the best gift ever - peace of mind knowing that they are honoring your wishes. Bryant uncovers the details we don't want to think about in a light-hearted and compassionate manner - explaining them clearly in layman's terms and helping you determine what you wish to put into place for your own care plan so that truly your wishes can be honored.
For those that are ready to put together their advanced medical directives, I highly recommend visiting www.fivewishes.org. Five Wishes is the nation's only national advance care planning program. After you have talked to your loved ones about what matters the most, make sure that you get those conversations documented. There are two ways you can do that. You can complete the documentation online, purchase once, and change as needed for $10. Or, you can request a printed copy for you to document your wishes in your own handwriting for $5. Advanced directives do not need to be notarized, but they do need to be witnessed in the State of Alabama. You should check your state's requirements.
Five Wishes documentation allows you to get more detailed in your requests. But it also provides family packages with coaching on how to start these conversations with your family members. Communicating wishes is just as important as documenting them. Today, Five Wishes is more than a workbook that becomes legal advance directives when completed. It is a comprehensive, person-centered advance care planning program that offers a proven, easy-to-use approach to having effective and compassionate conversations.
The hallmark of the Five Wishes program is its simplicity and clarity. Just as the Five Wishes advanced directive document is widely known for being easy to follow and understand, it is also legally binding. It is the only advanced directive that has embraced families, community groups, faith communities, medical and legal providers - and provides the roadmap for how you want to cared for - not just medically but spiritually as well. Most documents built by legal teams only include a few boxes to check.
Avoid attributing great friction amongst family members that may not agree with the decisions that need to be made in stressful situations. Give the gift of understanding and communicate your wishes well so that those who love you the most are not given the added stress of making decisions that are emotionally compromised - not what you want - or perhaps adding extra stress to guess at what treatments or end of life care you may or may not want.
Nobody said these were easy or fun conversations to have. But they are critically necessary. And no matter what season of life we are in - no matter what conditions we may or may not have been diagnosed with - these conversations matter for everyone. Too often, they are ignored until it's too late.
Engage Care Partners helps families navigate advanced planning initiatives throughout the Greater Birmingham and Shelby County areas of Alabama. We aren't lawyers, financial advisors or medical doctors - and we don't provide financial, medical, or legal advice. But we know what needs to be done and can connect you to the relevant areas to get you what you need when it comes to building and documenting your long-term care plans affordably. We can help you streamline all the moving parts and pieces so that transitions are smooth when needed.