Planning Ahead For The End Of Life

Apr 16, 2019

As an old saying goes, the only things we can be certain about in life are death and taxes. Presumably, you wrapped up your taxes yesterday. That’s why today is designated National Healthcare Decisions Day.

The day is about preparing for the end of your life and making sure medical wishes are clear.   

Dr. John Hausdorff works in hospice and palliative care at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. He says National Healthcare Decisions Day is a way to start talking more openly about death.

John Hausdorff (JH): Honestly, everybody probably instinctively doesn't want to do it because of a very obvious fear of the unknown and of bad things that could happen. But of course, these are exactly the reasons to talk about it. And nobody wants to see dad die. But it's a lot better if you knew it was coming. If you were open about it, if you talked about things. If you've said your ‘thank yous’ and you've made up. And ideally, you get out of the hospital and you're home. And so there are good deaths.

Erika Mahoney (EM): A good death usually takes some planning, says Siobhan Greene with Hospice Giving Foundation. And she says planning for death should be no different than other major life events.  

Siobhan Greene (SG): We plan everything from when our children are born, where they're going to go to a grammar school, high school. We've talked to them about college when they're like little. We plan our careers. We plan our weddings and births extensively. We plan for retirement the minute we get a job and then we kind of stop short and we don't plan that next stage. So we try to remind people that all of those things that we planned for in our lives are complicated. A lot of them are emotional and this is no different.

EM: For families who haven't started this conversation, where do you start?

SG: Find a time like around a holiday, when you're all together. You sit together you know you're going to devote some time to the conversation and each of you get to talk and listen to one another about what that looks like for you. I've done it with my family and it always generates some sad moments, but it also always generates a little bit of laughter and warmth and times where people feel closer to one another because you're really being genuine.

EM: So it really starts with a conversation, it starts with talking and figuring out what people want. And then, what would be the next step in terms of like the paperwork-side of this?

SG: The paperwork is actually fairly straightforward. Throughout Monterey County we now use a form called Prepare for Your Care. And anybody can go online and find that document. It comes in many, many languages, which makes it more accessible to the communities. Now, when you complete an advance health care directive, you need to have it notarized or witnessed by somebody who's not a member of your family. You also need to have clarity that whoever you name as your medical decision-maker, that they know and that they are willing to assume that responsibility.

EM: And their responsibility is making sure your wishes are carried out.  So what does that look like?

SG: If you have a serious illness, what point do you want to continue treatment; at what point do you want to discontinue treatment. If you were in a very serious accident and so you weren't ill, but now you're in a life threatening situation, what kind of measures do you want the physicians and the medical teams to take. Because, you know, if you don't tell them, they will do everything they can do. Because that's how… the technology in medicine is remarkable and they can do a lot to save people's lives. But sometimes, it's more than the patient really wants. So you need to be clear about what you want and how far you want the team to go.

Siobhan Greene is CEO of Hospice Giving Foundation. This week, the Foundation is holding a series of workshops about planning for end of life.

Editor's Note: Hospice Giving Foundation supports KAZU.  Underwriters do not affect our journalism.

Local National Healthcare Decisions Day Events:

Tuesday, April 16, 2019 (1:00 – 2:00 PM)

ADVANCED HEALTH CARE PLANNING WORKSHOP

Monterey Public Library,

625 Pacific St, Monterey

Tuesday, April 16, 2019 (3:30 – 4:30 PM)

ADVANCED HEALTH CARE PLANNING WORKSHOP

John Steinbeck Branch Library,350 Lincoln Ave, Salinas

Wednesday, April 17, 2019 (2:30 – 4:00 PM)

DEFINING HOPE FILM SCREENING & DISCUSSION

Carmel Foundation, Lincoln St, Carmel-By-The-Sea

Thursday, April 18, 2019 (11:00 AM – 12:00 PM)

ADVANCED HEALTH CARE PLANNING WORKSHOP

Seaside Public Library, 550 Harcourt Ave, Seaside