Make Reviewing Your Health Care Proxy in the New Year a Priority
Besides losing someone because of a death, divorce could be the next most painful loss. It ranks right up there in the top 10 stress events on the “stress level” chart. And whether or not it was “the best thing that could have happened” or “the worst thing that’s ever happened,” it impacts your life for years to come.
During my recent divorce from a partner with whom I shared eighteen years of my life, I remember reading a Dr. Seuss quote that said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” It took me a while before I could appreciate the sentiment behind that statement, but eventually I did. In my line of work, it helps to look at the glass half full. And so, most of the time, I smiled because our relationship did happen. And I took comfort in the fact that I had loved someone wholly and unconditionally and that I had learned what that felt like. Yes, my heart had been broken, but I had loved.
And then I realized that my health care power of attorney and advance directive still had her listed as the person who could “pull the plug.” If that isn’t a powerful motivator to stop procrastinating and get my paperwork revised, nothing is! In my ‘day job’ as a patient advocate, I am privy to many relationships between and among patients. The most noteworthy one is the relationship between the patient and the caregiver. In ‘typical’ situations, the spouse is the primary caregiver both in terms of emotional support and physical support as well (depending on the healthcare issue).
And yet, the decision to name your healthcare power of attorney is, for many patients, fraught with anxiety over naming their spouse. And though, divorce does happen and that requires revising documentation, often the reason is because withdrawing life support from your loved one is a very difficult job.
That’s why it’s so very, very important to have the difficult conversation with your loved one, with your family about what your end-of-life wishes are. No one looks forward to this conversation but it is critical in this era of advanced healthcare technology. And it’s even more important to write down what those wishes are so that were the situation to present itself, a written record of your wishes can be referenced by your family and by the healthcare team.
I can tell you from many patients I’ve known that having a clear plan for what you want your family to do should a dire clinical situation present itself is one of the greatest gifts a patient can give. Through grief, sadness and anxiety about making the wrong decision, knowing that their loved one was clear about their wishes allows the family’s withdrawal of life support to be a gift to the patient, too.
Don’t wait until a relationship ends to think about reviewing your healthcare power of attorney and advance directive. Make it a priority for the New Year.