It may never be as popular as “National Talk Like a Pirate Day” (September 19), or “National Chocolate Chip Day” (May 15), but April 16 has its own designation: “National Health Care Decision Day.”
The organization sponsoring and promoting the idea writes that their goal is “to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning.”
Recently, we discussed two important documents that we should all be aware of: advanced directives (also known as living wills) and Do Not Resuscitate orders. These documents allow us to specify which life-sustaining treatments we do or do not want to be used in the event of a health crisis.
Thinking about death and the possibility of declining health is hard. It’s no surprise that many people avoid it at all costs. But making these decisions ahead of time can be one of the kindest things we can do for our families. Taking the burden of making these wrenching decisions from their shoulders can be a tremendous help during a stressful time.
What is National Healthcare Decisions Day?
National Healthcare Decisions Day aims to educate and empower the public to take part in important advance care planning initiatives. Hundreds of different national, state, and local organizations take part in the annual program, now in it’s 11th year. Participating groups emphasize the importance of advance directives, ensuring that the information, opportunity, and resources needed to document health care decisions are available to all adult U.S. citizens with decision-making capacity.
In honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day, I encourage you to:
Understand your options
There are different types of advance directives and they can vary based on state law. The two most common types of advance directives are the living will and durable power of attorney for health care (sometimes called a health care proxy).
These documents typically include instructions about your health care decisions. For example, you can specify that you do not wish to be resuscitated in the event of cardiac arrest or other catastrophic health failure. An advance directive can also be used to specify how you’d like your health care handled should you develop a condition like Alzheimer’s Disease or become unconscious for an extended period of time.
Other types of directives include the 5 Wishes form (legally recognized in 42 states), Do Not Resuscitate order, and physician orders for life sustaining treatment (POLST).
Talk to others about your wishes
Bottom line: if your loved ones aren’t aware of your wishes, they can’t carry them out. Advance care planning starts with talking with your family, friends, and healthcare providers to make your desires known. Let them know if you have a living will, DNR, or other end-of-life plans and give those closest to you copies of any important documents. This will relieve them of the need of trying to guess what you would want if you are ever faced with a medical crisis.
Engage others in conversation
End-of-life planning is important no matter how old you are or whatever your station in life. Talk to others about why advance directives and other types of planning are vital and help them to understand their options. By making others aware, we can help ensure that their healthcare wishes are met and help spare their family the stress of uncertainty.
Not sure how to bring up this sensitive topic? The National Hospice and Palliative Care Association has suggestions on how to get the conversation going on their website.
Consider your legacy
A Place for Mom says, “The elderly leave us a priceless gift when they bestow their knowledge, skills and history to family and beloved friends.”
Thinking ahead to the end of life isn’t just about planning for health care. It also offers us opportunities to enrich our lives and to leave something meaningful for the next generations–something more valuable than money or property.
What do you want your friends and family to remember about you when you’re gone? What stories would you like told by generations to come? None of know how long our life might be, but we can actively engage every single day and act with meaning and purpose. By living a life in a way that is meaningful for us, we can leave the legacy we desire.
Here are some other ways you can leave lasting memories for those you love:
- Be honest: Be your authentic self and share your failings as well as your victories. A life lived with transparency and openness will set a wonderful example for the generations to come.
- Share the gift of time: At the end of your life, your loved ones are going to remember the times you spent together more than anything else. Commit yourself to sharing meaningful experiences with your friends and family, even if it’s something as simple as a cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon.
- Tell your story: My grandfather used to share stories of growing up on the farm with his brothers and sisters–one in particular that I always recall are the famous ‘pig rodeos’ they had out by the barn. I remember those stories as if I was there myself, even though they happened far before I was ever born. By sharing your stories, you will give your children and grandchildren tales they can enjoy well into adulthood.
- Talk about your vision for life after you’ve departed: Let your children, grandchildren, and other loved ones know what you’d like to see happen for them in the future. Those thoughts might help steer them through difficult times one day. After all, there likely isn’t one among us that hasn’t asked, “What would dad have done?” at least once.
For more ideas on how to leave a legacy, see the below sources:
- Grand Magazine: Words of wisdom on how to leave a legacy for your children and grandchildren to cherish.
- Celebrations of life: Information on ethical wills–a way to share your values, blessing, and life’s lessons with your family, friends and community.
- Talk of a Lifetime: Tips for making sure that you collect all the memories you need to make this book special for everyone.