Don’t Wait for a Divorce to Review Your Health Care Proxy

divorce health proxy

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.



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About Betty Long, RN

As a registered nurse working in greater Philadelphia-area hospitals over the past 27 years, Betty Long’s experiences as a nurse and manager proved to her that maneuvering through today’s healthcare system can be daunting, especially when you don’t have someone to help you navigate the system. Care decisions, insurance decisions and coordination of treatment services can overwhelm even the savviest consumer. Those experiences, and other more personal experiences, led Long to launch Guardian Nurses Healthcare Advocates in October 2003. Guardian Nurses provides advocacy services for clients, both private and corporate, all over the United States. The driving mission for its nurse advocates is simple: to act as representatives and advocate for their patients. And since nurse advocates work independently of hospitals, doctors, insurance companies and government agencies, they can be a strong voice for patients in all areas of the healthcare system. Nurse advocates understand healthcare issues from the viewpoint of caring for the patient and of the medical professionals trying to provide care. Nationally, Long’s advocacy work has been featured on The Dr Oz Show and National Public Radio’s Marketplace and Marketplace Money shows and various print publications.

One thought on “Don’t Wait for a Divorce to Review Your Health Care Proxy

  1. Lynn Lambrecht

    I applaud you for writing about this. Emotions are high when we face life adjustments / transitions.

    The gift of peace of mind is what we give/receive when we are clear about our wishes, take action to ensure our wishes are honored and communicate with our loved ones about our choices while we are living. This gift allows us to grieve when the time comes, rather than attempting to think clearly about “action to take”.

    Thank you!



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