Virtually everyone know that they need to talk to their loved ones about end-of-life choices. Children know that they should get guidance from their parents while they are competent to tell them what they want. Parents know they should communicate their wishes to their children. But most people find these discussions difficult to start. They can seem ghoulish, and if initiated by the child almost like a death wish.
However, guidance by the patient for her health care agent can be vital to making sure she gets the kind of care she wants and in relieving the agent, at least to some extent, from the burden and potential guilt of making life and death decisions.
Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Ellen Goodman is a co-founder of a website, www.theconversationproject.org, whose purpose is to promote conversations among families and friends about the end-of-life care they would want.
Users are invited to share their end-of-life wishes in 140 characters or fewer -- something like a tweet. Here are a few examples, all of which start with:
I want mine to be . . .
. . . full of wonderful last memories, warm thoughts shared, important heartfelt things said, and to be surrounded by those whom I trust and love.
. . . without regrets, surrounded by family and friends laughing, telling beautiful stories. I want to be comfortable without needless suffering and heroic measures to prolong the inevitable.
. . . in a setting of quiet friends and family as opposed to noisy machines and strangers.
. . . aware, low cost, with as little pain as medically possible, with my loved ones while I still know them & can talk, eat, walk & bathroom myself.
. . . after a full life well lived, when I am fulfilled and satisfied. That's all.
. . . after the doctors have tried everything possible.
. . . with my children by my side.
. . . Peaceful and surrounded by loved ones including my dog!
. . . peaceful and full of joy with forever young (Jay-Z version) playing.
Go to the website to read more or to write your own short statement of your wishes.
For a more complete conversation about your wishes, the site provides a downloadable Starter Kit directed at the person making the health care decisions as well as a downloadable worksheet for starting the conversation with one's physician. Both documents are available in both English and Spanish. These can also serve as a statement of your wishes for your health care agent just in case you don't get around to the conversation.