IT'S OUR TURN: Have you had 'the talk' yet?
We are all going to die — some sooner than others. It's inevitable. We don't live forever. So why not have "the conversation" with your loved ones before the need arises. What are those conversations, you may ask?
You know, the ones about what their wishes are. And I am not just talking about where they want to be buried, what songs they want at their funeral or who is going to get their belongings when they are gone. Although those are just as important, that is not what I am talking about here.
The conversations you should be having are in regard to advance care planning, which in essence tells loved ones what your wishes are when it comes to end of life. In other words, if they are close to death and need life support, do they really want it? If their heart stops, what measures do they want the doctors to take? Do they want to be designated as DNR, which means "Do Not Resuscitate." And if they want to be DNR, what exactly does DNR mean to them?
You need to find out if your loved one — whether it's a spouse, parent or even your own child — wants to stop or withhold treatments, which may include feeding tubes, IV fluids, breathing machine and/or even antibiotics. Or, does your loved one want treatments to continue until they are deemed harmful or no longer helpful?
And what about organ donation? What are their wishes? Do they want their body parts to be donated? Again, what are THEIR wishes?
You will never know the answers to these questions unless you have THE TALK. And so, you need to do it — sooner, rather than later.
It may be hard, but I guarantee it will be worth it. Trust me. I've been there, done that.
After my in-laws passed away in 2009 and I saw what my husband and his siblings went through, I knew I had to have the talk with my parents. Yes, it was a hard subject to broach. But I am so very thankful I did. However, the one thing we didn't do was write it all down in a health care directive, which is a document that specifies all the end of life decisions.
So about a year ago, my mother was sent to a geriatric mental health facility where we learned her diagnosis — dementia. They asked for her health care directive and although I knew what her wishes were, they weren't written down. Fortunately, the staff at the facility deemed her "with it enough" to fill it out. However, although she did pretty good at answering the questions, she added comments to everything that said, "Celeste knows my wishes."
Unfortunately, I had to act on those wishes when my 82-year-old mom went into the hospital Feb. 27. Although she had dementia, my mom also had a plethora of other health issues and it was during that hospital stay I had to say yes, my mother was DNR and that yes, no heroic measures were to be taken to save her life and that yes, there would be no feeding tubes or respirators to be used and that yes, when we learned the antibiotics weren't working, I had to tell the doctor that there was nothing else she could do but send my mom home. To die.
I am not going to lie, those were the worst decisions I have ever had to make in my life. To put it bluntly, it sucked.
On March 3, after nearly a week in the hospital, my mom got to go "home" — her home at Salmons Place Senior Care, which is an adult foster home for people like my mom. She was under the care of not only the wonderful staff at Salmons, but also the care of the wonderful team at Hospice of Douglas County.
After eight days of being under the care of hospice, my mom — my beautiful, sweet, loving, caring, vivacious mom — died.
Looking back over the last year, there is nothing I would change about caring for my mom. I am grateful that I had that chance and I am happy I got the opportunity to spend as much time as I did with her. I loved her with all my heart.
However, I will admit that I wish her health care directive would have been filled out more completely so I didn't have to make those decisions and actually have to say them out loud to her doctors and other health care providers. It hurt.
So, even though it's hard to talk about death and what we want when it's our time, I am asking you — no, begging really — to have the conservation. Now. Before it is too late.
• • •
Editor's note: Watch the Echo Press during the week of April 16-22, which is National Healthcare Decision Week, for an article about a new non-profit organization called The Written Gift. This organization helps families with advance care planning and filling out a health care directive.