The One Conversation You Need to Have Now

By Barbara Elkins

It’s hard to talk about mortality. No one wants to plan for the unthinkable, but it is so important to talk about advanced directives. Tell your loved ones now what you want in the event you become gravely ill. I have told my mother exactly what I want – and even though she doesn’t want to talk about it, I know my wishes will be honored.

As an R.N. Case Manager with PruittHealth Hospice, I guide people through the process of making the decisions that will ensure their final wishes are honored. Making decisions now, while you are healthy, will save your family and loved ones from a lot of emotional trauma in the event of an accident or sudden health event, such as a stroke or heart attack.

One of the easiest ways to start is by executing a living will; there are resources online that will simplify this process. Then, consider a health care power of attorney and a financial power of attorney. Both of these documents must be done by your lawyer, and let you choose who will make decisions about your health and your money when you cannot speak for yourself.

As a hospice nurse, I see patients at the end of their lives. Sadly, many people never talk about their final wishes until it becomes an emergency. I had a patient with a loving, committed significant other, and she was adamant that he be allowed to make health care decisions for her when she was no longer able to do so. However, because she didn’t have a health care power of attorney, and they were not legally married, these decisions were made by other family members who may not have had her best interests at heart. If you do not have a living will and/or health care power of attorney, decisions will default to the next of kin – and if there are none, you could become a ward of the state, giving decision-making power to someone who doesn’t even know you.

It’s also important to let your loved ones know your wishes regarding final arrangements. If possible, make the arrangements. I’ve watched this for over 30 years and am very familiar with both sides. The grief process is always horrible and painful, but it is less traumatic for those whose loved ones have already made the hard decisions.

When you talk about what you want, you are in control of your health right up to the final stages of life. I talk about my wishes regularly – we all need to encourage this conversation.

Barbara Elkins, R.N., Case Manager with PriuttHealth Hospice, has worked in health care for 31 years, most of those in long term and end of life care for our elder population. When she’s not working, Barbara is relaxing in her home in Myrtle Beach with her beloved dachshund, reading a good book or going to the ocean to refresh her soul in nature. Contact PruittHealth Hospice by calling 843-662-8633 orvisit www.pruitthealth.com to learn more.

For more information about how to start the conversation about advanced directives, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine at medlineplus.gov, or the National Institute on Aging at nia.nih.gov.

About this writer

  • Barbara Elkins

    Barbara Elkins

    Barbara Elkins, R.N., Case Manager with PriuttHealth Hospice, has worked in health care for 31 years, most of those in long term and end of life care for our elder population. When she’s not working, Barbara is relaxing in her home in Myrtle Beach with her beloved dachshund, reading a good book or going to the ocean to refresh her soul in nature. Contact PruittHealth Hospice by calling 843-662-8633 or visit www.pruitthealth.com to learn more.

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