Why you should have an advance directive

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Talking about how, when the time comes, we’d like to live our last days is not at the top of most people’s conversation lists. I understand that. I also understand from personal experience and the stories from friends, colleagues and others that it’s a very important conversation to have. This is National Health Care Decisions Week and it’s all about having conversations.

The purpose of these conversations is simple; making sure your loved ones, medical providers and others know what is important to you. What are your wishes, how do you want to live the last part of your life? If you become unable to speak for yourself, who do you want to speak for you and advocate for your wishes regarding medical care, and do they know what your wishes are? No one can speak for you if they don’t know what you want. Important conversations like these should not wait until the last days of life and, in a crisis, you won’t have the chance for any conversations at all.

I am of the baby boomer generation, the oldest child in my family and the only daughter. Needless to say, I like having as much control over things as possible which includes my wishes for end of life. For years I have been a passionate advocate for planning for future health care decisions through Honoring Your Wishes, our area’s initiative to encourage all adults to have conversations and document their wishes.

I wanted to sit down with my three daughters to share my wishes and give them copies of my Honoring Your Wishes Advance Directive (AD). They stalled for a couple of years, not wanting to discuss any possibility that I would die someday, and the fact that my youngest lived in Alaska didn’t make sitting down together any easier. But I needed them all together so they could hear me at the same time, and ask questions.

On Labor Day, 2015, we were together and able to carve out 10 minutes in a park, sending the husbands and children to a playground 100 yards away while we huddled at a picnic table. I gave my girls copies of my document and explained what care I would want and what makes my life meaningful to me. I shared that my husband would speak for me if I could not. However, if he was unable to, my middle daughter was my next choice and I explained why. They accepted all that I said, hugged me tightly, and realized they should have these conversations themselves.

Please talk to the people who matter to you. Let them know what you want, what makes your life meaningful, who you have asked to speak for you, and why. Please don’t let people you care about carry the burden of wondering whether they made the right decisions. Just have a conversation. And complete a document.

Honoring Your Wishes has made this process as easy as possible. More information can be found at their website and free assistance is available at Mercy Iowa City, Iowa City Hospice, the Iowa City Senior Center and University of Iowa Health Care. Trained facilitators can help you have the conversation, complete your AD, help you decide who to choose if you cannot communicate, and how to have these conversations with your loved ones.

• Margaret N. Reese is President of the Mercy Hospital Foundation in Iowa City and Chair of the Honoring Your Wishes Advisory Board, an Iowa City Hospice program.

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