Another Wake-up Call to Document End of Life Care Decisions

A couple of weeks ago, our extended family came together to celebrate my mother’s 95th birthday.  My mother has always loved a party, so even though she suffers from several chronic conditions, and then had a pretty serious health scare 2 weeks before the party, she had an amazing recovery and was able to (as my husband said) “make the scene” with close to 50 friends and family members.

The next day, after most of us had returned to our own homes, still in the glow of the wonderful family gathering, my mother suffered a heart attack.  Five days later, she was alert, refusing any pain medication and back home with her amazing team of compassionate caregivers.  She has continued to improve every day, and is just about back to  her role as “information central” for all the news related to our far flung family members.

While this story has a happy ending, it was a reminder to all of us of the importance of understanding what our mother would want done – or not done – if extreme measures had been called for.  Fortunately, I did have her Living Will close at hand, and was able to share it with her medical team.  But while it was certainly better to have the document than not, our family found that the words on the page did not answer all of our questions about the specific situation in which we would have found ourselves if our mother had not been able to bounce back with minimal medical intervention.

If there was a silver lining from this challenging experience, it is that it caused us to research palliative care options, and talk to one another about what that might mean to us, and to our mother.  And while we may find at the next crisis that the seemingly logical thought process we developed still doesn’t apply to the current situation,  at least we will have a framework for discussion among our family, and my mother’s medical team, that we started when we had a chance to reflect.

As I say to my clients, every adult should have advance directives in place, and you do not need a  lawyer to accomplish that.  The website of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization ( contains state-specific advance directive forms, as well as helpful information and study guides about end of life decision making, and helps you create an advance directive that you can email to doctors and family members.  If you do not have your intentions in writing, check out these sites today.



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