Opinion

End-of-life decisions made easier for family

SENIOR LIFE 101

Recently, my wife and I engaged in an exercise that far too few couples (or individuals) ever get around to doing. For several hours we discussed and completed a document detailing our “wishes” regarding how we want to be treated if we become seriously ill. We also discussed and wrote down how we want to be remembered (by family and friends), as well as what arrangements and services would be appropriate following our death.

Obviously, such a subject is not something people are eager to discuss or plan for. Most people tend to avoid such discussions and put it off for as long as possible. Frankly, it’s uncomfortable because it exposes hidden fears and anxieties that we would rather not face. In fact, it’s taken more than 48 years of married life for my wife and I to finally recognize the necessity to face our mortality and make appropriate preparations. But given the realities of our day, and the state of physical challenges we all face as we age, such a discussion and planning becomes imperative.

In a previous column, I referred to a document called the Five Wishes, which I believe serves to intelligently and intentionally engage in a conversation about life-ending decisions. It also represents a wonderful “tool” to implement actions that accomplish our physical, emotional and spiritual wishes and values.

In light of the recently passed “Death with Dignity” Initiative, it becomes even more relevant and timely to address these end-of-life issues, and to establish a clear and well-defined “plan” that meets our beliefs and wishes. The fact is … for most people, assisted suicide is not a viable consideration and, yet, without a clearly defined plan, it’s possible that circumstances could manipulate us into an unwise, emotionally based decision. Now is the time to take action that prevents that from happening.

So why the Five Wishes?

First of all … it’s comprehensive. It lets you talk with your family, friends and doctor about how you want to be treated if you become seriously ill. Your family members won’t have to guess what you want and it protects them because they won’t have to make hard choices without knowing your wishes. The document allows you to: 1) select the person of your choice to be your health care agent; 2) define and specify the kind of medical treatment you want or don’t want; 3) establish how comfortable you want to be; 4) designate how you want people to treat you; and 5) specify what you want your loved ones to know about your beliefs, wishes and final arrangements.

Secondly … it’s dynamic. It’s a “living” document that is flexible and that allows changes to be made when necessary. It’s also easy to use because all you have to do is check a box, circle a direction or write a few sentences.

Finally … it’s legal. Forty states, plus the District of Columbia, now acknowledge that the Five Wishes substantially meets their requirements under the law for such a document. One of those states is Washington.

By the way, Five Wishes isn’t just for seniors, it’s for anyone 18 or older, married or single. More than eight million Americans of all ages have already used it because it works so well. In fact, lawyers, doctors, hospitals and hospices, faith communities, employers and retiree groups are handing out this document to interested people all across the country. If you want more information, and a copy of your own, you can contact Aging with Dignity at (888) 594-7437 or visit www.agingwithdignity.org. It truly is a great resource.

I know, for my wife and I, we now have the confidence and assurance our loved ones will be spared the difficult task of making end-of-life decisions because we loved them enough to plan ahead. So can you.

Carl R. Johnson is the community relations director at Abiding HomeCare in Silverdale.

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