National Healthcare Decision Day is a reminder to make a plan

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The ongoing pandemic has done more than its share to disrupt schedules, affect livelihoods and alter the way we interact with family and friends.

What it should not do is prevent us from taking action to create plans that safeguard our futures and map out the end-of-life care we want to be executed by loved ones we’ll leave in our wake.

Every April 16 — the day after “tax day” — is recognized as National Healthcare Decisions Day. It’s set aside to recognize and devise a plan to inspire, educate and empower ourselves and others about the importance of advance care planning to address life’s final chapter.

Also known as a living will, an advance care plan provides invaluable direction to family and to health care professionals when we’re unable to advocate for ourselves: Whether we wish to be kept alive by machines. How drugs and therapies could be integrated when we’re at a critical crossroad. The sort of funeral we want. And to whom those important responsibilities should fall.

Human nature being what it is, we’re too often lulled into doing the same thing day after day, putting our lives on autopilot. It’s easy to assume end-of-life decisions will somehow work themselves out and that we’ve got a lot of time remaining in the hourglass.

But the pandemic itself has taught us the opposite. Life can be both fleeting and unpredictable. The hard truth is that none of us knows how much time we have left. And so even though it’s a tough conversation to have — and arguably an even tougher action to undertake — sooner is better than later.

It starts with an honest conversation with loved ones thoroughly discussing our medical wishes for the end of life. Studies show that more than 90% of us think this is an important thing to do. But alarmingly, less than one-third actually create an advance directive — the document that puts a plan in place and designates a loved one as your health advocate.

Organizations like Emmanuel Hospice are only too familiar with the complications that can surface if someone dies without providing a compass for their survivors to follow. Arguments ensue between family members. Courts may enter the fray and take control of assets and processes for distributing them. Even details surrounding the person’s final service and resting place can become a source of friction and divisiveness if left to chance.

When advanced care measures are in place, they serve as a blueprint for how someone wants their final chapter to be written. When not in place, advocates are forced to make tough decisions during already difficult times — times made even more complicated by the pandemic.

Fortunately, Michiganders can find help navigating the waters through the advance care planning services of Michigan Health Information Network Shared Services.

They’re just a click or a call away, MiHIN.org/advance-care-planning and (844) 454-2443. You can set up an appointment with trained facilitators to start your plan. Free of charge, they’ll answer your questions, guide you through a conversation and point the way toward choices you can make to shape an advance directive tailored to your specific needs.

The pandemic has done enough damage. Don’t compound it by procrastinating on decisions that can head off a huge dose of heartache. Put a documented plan in place and designate an advocate before you need it to ensure your wishes will be honored if you are unable to decide or speak for yourself.

Sara Lowe is founder and executive director of Emmanuel Hospice.

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