A few months ago I started at St. Mary’s Hospice. In Hospice you are SURROUNDED by people at the end of their lives; and for the first two months, when I was training and following the nurses, and the social workers and our CNA’s – I cried every day. (Not joking, my boyfriend deserves a gold star for being such a good listener) Because we, as Americans, have been trained to see the end of life as something that isn’t a part of life. We have been conditioned to see the end as “the end”, when it could be a beautiful beginning or a peaceful transition.
Accidents, or unintentional injuries, are the leading cause of death for women ages 15-34 and for men ages 15-44. However, it is far more likely now that we will die of a debilitating disease. The top causes for people 85 years and older being heart disease and cancer, because we are living longer now than we ever have before. Do you know how you want to die? Have you thought about it? It’s a scary conversation, and not one we handle well as a society. Talking about death makes people uncomfortable. It makes death, and everything that comes with it, REAL… but that’s only IF we talk about it. If we don’t talk about death – maybe, just maybe, death won’t find us.
We are so uncomfortable with our own mortality, we spend our lives attempting to discredit it. We continue to fight for our names to go down in the history books, we want our glory to be shouted from the heavens – we want to be immortal in a mortal society. **NEWS FLASH: this is NOT currently possible** Waiting to have the conversation about end of life care is hurting not only you, but the people around you – because they don’t know what you want at that stage in your life. We cannot honor each other’s choices, if we don’t give one another the opportunity to voice them.
When I was growing up, my parents talked to us about their wishes – even though I begged them not too. No child wants to think about their parents – or siblings – or best friend, passing away or getting into an accident; but life happens. We need to prepare for the “what if”, and help our loved ones prepare as well.
How you may ask? With an advance directive. For those of you who don’t know what an advance directive is, it is a legal form that tells your loved ones what you would, or wouldn’t want in terms of care, if you cannot tell them yourself. My little brother is my “durable medical power of attorney” which means he is responsible for making healthcare decisions for me if I am unable to do so. This wasn’t an easy conversation. Death and dying, honoring choices and advance directives – are all HARD, sometimes too real of topics. That being said, my dad has always told us to give him, “a cigar and a whiskey and roll (him) in the pool” when it’s his time… not sure how I feel about that comment still – but that’s about as real as you can get.
Please, take the 15 minutes and complete your advance directive. Give your loved ones a gift, that will literally last a lifetime. Talk to one another about how you want to spend the end of your life. Only we can give a voice to the conversations we need to have.
Let’s get uncomfortable and discuss our end of life decisions.
Let’s get REAL, and have the courage to ask, “Do you know how you want to die“?