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Got Plans? Considering the end of life

Stephanie Jones

As the daughter of aging parents, mother of four, and a hospice social worker my personal and professional goals are to ensure that the rights, integrity, choices and dignity of all people are protected.

Likewise, treating each person as an individual, considering their desires, values, family situations, social circumstances and lifestyles are also at the top of my priority list. Unfortunately, like many people I have a natural tendency to put myself at the bottom of that same priority list. So, when is it acceptable to put ourselves at the top of the priority list? It's amazing how infrequently we actually do this.

If we allow ourselves to just do what's next on the to-do list or let ourselves think that everyone and everything is more important, we'll never find the time to think about the "big picture" or the most important facts about a situation and the effects that they have on other people. In addition, studies have shown that if we make ourselves a priority and a significant part of the "big picture," everything in our life will benefit; including our health, our work and our relationships.

I have always considered myself a "big picture" thinking person, but I am beginning to realize I may have been ignoring my own significance. My most recent goal is to not just rethink my approach about the "big picture" but to paint a self-portrait of sorts, to complete a document that is all about me; my wants, my needs and my wishes.

I am talking about my Health Care Directive, also referred to as Advance Care Planning. No, I do not have a terminal illness and I am only in my late 40s, but I don't know what tomorrow brings as none of us do. Nonetheless, I have had the discussion with all of my children and they know what I want once I am gone- that is the easy part. Yet, what if something unexpected happens such as a car accident or another life threatening event that leaves me incapacitated or unable to communicate. We have discussed this as well. However I worry that when push comes to shove and personal opinions and emotions get involved, are they going to remember what I wanted or didn't want?

Would they be able to work together to make the tough decisions based on what I told them, and communicate them effectively to the medical team caring for me? Would they remember even the tiniest detail even that I like to sleep on flannel sheets surrounded by pillows? Completing a Healthcare Directive is much more than deciding on whether or not I want life saving measures in the event that I quit breathing or my heart stops. A Health Care Directive allows me to decide what I want the end of my life to look like.

Plus this directive allows me to designate someone I trust to ensure that my final wishes are respected. Most importantly, this legal document ensures me a sense of peace that my loved ones will not have to make those tough decisions. Instead, they can just take comfort in the fact that they have honored my wishes.

Free event offers keynote speaker, lunch

To learn more about planning, the public is invited to "Got Plans? Aging Conference" 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 29 at First Lutheran Church, Koinonia Reception Hall, 424 S. Eighth St, Brainerd.

Got Plans? will cover plan options from experts. The keynote speaker, Frank Bennett is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Spirituality and Healing, and program lead of the Living Well/Dying Well initiative. Bennett is an ordained UCC minister, chaplain, and teacher. He is an advanced healthcare directive facilitator and has worked in acute, palliative, and hospice healthcare settings. In addition, presentations will cover: Alzheimer's and Trends—Dr. David Anderholm, Resilience—Tom Gonzalez, Financial Funding for Care—Jeannine Henn and an Advance Care Planning question and answer period. Space is limited for this free event. Lunch included. Go to www.CrowWingEnergized.org/events/got-plans/ to register.

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