Advanced directives give grace beyond measure in times of crisis

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In the world of hospice care, there’s a phrase that surfaces all too often: “It always seems too soon until it’s too late.”

I wish I could turn back the calendar and create a space where everyone’s health care decisions would be mapped out ahead of time. The sad reality is some of us probably spend more hours planning a holiday dinner than we do creating advanced health care directives. Yet none of us knows how much time we have left.

Enter National Healthcare Decisions Day, an annual reminder on April 16 to recognize the importance of adults of all ages to plan ahead for health crises and end-of-life care.

And if you were to stop reading now, I’d understand.

There are arguably far more pleasant ways to spend your time. After all, advance planning brings into question elements like resuscitation, ventilators and feeding tubes. It’s not something most of us want to consider, but we should.

When you are faced with serious illness or death, will everything be in place so your loved ones will be able to exercise your wishes in case you can’t? Is having a tough conversation worth releasing them from the burden of guessing rather than knowing?

I’ll be the first to admit it’s a more comfortable subject for me, since I’ve been involved in health care my entire professional life and on the front lines when it comes to reckoning life and death issues.

But I can assure you of this: Having an advocate in place and advance directives down on paper are among the most compassionate gifts you can leave your loved ones.

They are grace beyond measure and — in a very literal way — something that can help guide your medical team, prevent family feuds and convert chaos into calm.

It begins with forethought about what you want, then sparking an honest conversation with your loved ones. All you need to do is contact someone you trust and say, “I need your help with something. Will you help me with some considerations for my future?”

When we take the time to openly discuss and document our desires in writing and appoint someone to serve as an advocate, we’re bringing peace to a process that results in the inevitable. We’re enabling caregivers. We’re honoring family.

Help is just a click or two away, including a visit to the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization at nhpco.org, where you can find information and download forms for free. Lawyers and health care professionals also can serve as starting points.

Illness, disease and trauma can catch people off guard. None of us are immune to it. Sometimes, we have to consider the trade-offs between seeking a cure and opting for comfort. What we can control to some degree is how the tough times we’ll face might be managed according to our own wishes.

It starts with a conversation, the simple act of one person reaching out to another. And trust me: sooner is always better than later.

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