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Lin Sue Cooney: Give your family the gift of advance directives

Lin Sue Cooney

Arizona Republic
December 2, 2017

This is the season of frantic shopping, dashing around the mall, scouring for deals online — checking things off our list — trying to find the perfect gift and not break the bank.

Not to be morbid, but I’d like to suggest a gift that definitely isn’t on your radar. It’s something everyone needs. Even better, it doesn’t cost a penny.

You don’t need to wrap it or put it under the tree or stuff it in a stocking. You just need to take a few minutes to sit down with your family and have a conversation. It may be the most important talk you ever have.

How many of us have told our loved ones what our wishes are should we be unable to speak for ourselves because of a tragic accident or medical condition? Have you chosen someone you trust to be your voice, to advocate for you and make sure your wishes are carried out?

Not planning can lead to ugly consequences

Sadly, only about a quarter of us have advance directives — which means the vast majority have not taken the time to draw up a living will and choose a medical power of attorney.

“America is a death-denying culture,” says Carol Taylor, professor of medicine and nursing at Georgetown University’s School of Nursing and Health Studies. “But death is part of the human experience, and if we don’t plan for it, there can be some ugly consequences.”

Letting your family know how you'd like your health care to be handled in the event you can't voice your opinion will give them peace of mind now and later. (Photo: skynesher, Getty Images)

Remember the famous Terri Schiavo case? A heart attack left her in a persistent vegetative state. Her husband wanted her feeding tube removed — but her parents did not. The legal battle took 15 agonizing years. On her tombstone are two death dates — one for when she departed and one for when she was at rest.

“It’s a gift people give their families, if they say, 'Here’s what I want.' Because then they’re not pulling decisions out of nowhere,” Taylor stresses. “They know they are being your voice.”

It saves families from arguing about what’s best — because all that matters is what Mom wanted. They don’t have to wonder if they made a mistake: It’s written down in black and white. They don’t feel regret years later. They have the certainty of knowing they followed their loved one’s wishes.

Don't wait

And do it now, Taylor advises. “We can be perfectly healthy and not wake up tomorrow for any one of a million reasons. So don’t wait.”

‘Tis the season to give you and your family a precious gift — and it starts with a simple conversation.

Taylor firmly believes “it’s the most loving thing you can do. Spare your family anguish and let them know they’re fulfilling your wishes. A lot of peace comes from that — and that’s the gift.”

Hospice of the Valley can provide living will and medical power of attorney forms at no cost. Just contact us at (602) 530-6900.