Years ago, I took my two school age sons on an epic “father and sons” summer camping trip to the western United States. We saw the Rockies, Yellowstone, Devil’s Tower, Mount Rushmore, and more. I planned the trip for months in advance. I mapped out our route, selected the campsites where we would stay, checked travel guides out of the library, purchased supplies for the trip, and perused the websites of the various attractions. Additionally, I asked a neighbor to watch my house, put holds on the mail and newspaper, and serviced my camper and SUV prior to the trip. The intent of all that research and effort was to ensure the best possible lasting memory for us all. The preparation paid off, and we still talk about that trip. Although making provision for our Summer odyssey seemed overwhelming at the time, it actually consisted of three simple steps: 1) Developing a Plan, 2) Documenting the Plan, and 3) Communicating the Plan.
In my work as a hospice bereavement counselor, I have observed the benefits of these three essential steps. Thinking about our own end of life journey can indeed seem overwhelming, but developing, documenting, and communicating end of life wishes is a final gift that eases the burden of grief that loved ones will bear and ensures the best possible lasting memory.
For most people, the beginning of the process is to ask oneself, “What matters to me most?” In my observation, some people wish to have comfort and the ability to engage in relationships while others wish to extend life as long as possible, and most others fall somewhere in between.
There are many useful resources to help you think through and document your wishes. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization sponsors the www.caringinfo.org website containing information on advanced directives and choosing someone to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to do so. Another helpful website is www.prepareforyourcare.org, which contains useful videos to help people think through their end of life preferences, how to choose a surrogate decision maker, and how to communicate those preferences.
After contemplating these issues, it is essential that they are documented and communicated. Advanced Directive forms are available at caringinfo.org. Another website, www.mydirectives.com helps you create an Advanced Directive that can be emailed to your doctor and family. Also consider communicating your wishes and giving a copy of your documentation to your clergyperson as well.
Communicating your wishes to loved ones may be the most difficult aspect of all. Every family has its own unique style, but generally the more open and shared the communication is around these topics, the better the outcome both for patients and their families. A conversation starter kit is available at the www.theconversationproject.org. It contains a list of Likert scale questions to help determine the answer to the “What matters to me most?” question. It then provides resources on how to initiate conversation and communicate your wishes. Another creative means of attaining the same goal is the Go Wish Card Game available at www.gowish.org.
Grieving the loss of a loved one is always difficult. By developing, documenting, and communicating your end of life wishes you will greatly help your loved ones navigate this arduous but inevitable challenge.
Phil Hohulin, DMin, is a grief counselor with the Hospice of the Miami Valley. The Hospice of the Miami Valley offers grief counseling to the community free of charge.