Below is a guest blog from Rhea Go-Coloma that we ran back in April during Arizona’s Healthcare Decisions Month. Rhea is a social worker and Chief Administrative Officer for Hospice of the West. She shares her story of how she started the conversation about advance directives and her end of life healthcare wishes with her family. After reading her story, share your own thoughts about talking with family about your wishes.
I first completed my advance directives when I was 28 years old and pregnant with my first child. It was difficult to explain to loved ones and close friends because many didn’t understand why we were even thinking about advance care planning. I explained in an e-mail for our parents, siblings and godparents of our children that it was important for us to share our wishes should something happen to one or both of us. I attached our documents to the e-mail and asked all of them to keep it, to refer to it and to ask any questions. It’s been years, and no one has ever brought it up. I know what while they aren’t ready, we have given our children, our parents and our best friends a gift, and we have given ourselves something you can’t put a price tag on, peace of mind. This affords us the opportunity to focus on the important things every day, being present with people we care about, making memories, and being excited about the future.
In sharp contrast, it has been a long process with my grandparents to assist them in completing their advance directives. Each time I visited there was some kind of excuse or simple disregard. It seemed that my grandparents truly felt they were untouchable to the realities of aging and to the uncertainties that life can present. And in the short few months following my initial attempts to discuss their wishes, my grandparents were in a bad car accident. As a result we have had several medical events, hospitalizations, physicians visits, a lot of family meetings, tears, disagreements, and frustration.
It was now more important than ever for them to complete their advance directives. The stress on the family was mounting. At least knowing their wishes would help guide us in the right direction as we planned for their care. I was shocked to now find how willing they both were. They liked the attention and they appreciated the opportunity to share. They were happy to reminisce about their past while they shared their wishes for future care. They felt like they were in control again. I felt good, because they were ready, but it was years in the making to get to this point. I was relieved, relieved that it wasn’t too late. They both commented how easy the process was and I praised them for giving our family such a gift.
I felt that planting the seed about the importance of advance care planning is absolutely better than not attempting to have the conversation at all. The message to loved ones and to patients and clients must be clearly stated, “I want to have this conversation with you because I care about you. I care about listening to your wishes and needs and I want you to know that I want to help ensure they are honored.”