Death is an uncomfortable but inevitable topic. While most people know that having discussions with their families about the end of their lives is vital, only 32 percent of people will do so.
Avoiding end-of-life decision-making can increase your suffering in your final moments. But it can also pile stress and increase the pressure of important decisions upon your family members at a time of profound grief.
Facing up to difficult conversations around the end of life will ensure comfort and dignity when you or someone you love passes on. It is also the best way to get exactly what you want and not have someone else making the decisions for you.
During our lives, we consult people and make our wishes known when making multiple vital decisions such as where to live, work, or retire. There is no reason to delay this tough conversation.
In this article, we will look at some of the important decisions to consider at the end of your life and after you have passed.
Table of Contents
Conversations About Medical Decisions
You may wonder when is the right time to discuss medical decisions. It generally becomes important as we get older. However, life-threatening emergencies can affect anyone at any time.
That is why it is important to share your wishes at any age. However, if you have received a terminal diagnosis or are getting older and frailer, it becomes more urgent to evaluate your options.
The first question experts suggest you ask yourself is: What really matters to me?
This will guide the kind of treatment you would want to receive.
Here are some possible questions to consider:
- How informed do you wish to be about your condition and treatment?
- How involved do you want to be in decision-making about treatment?
- Do you want to know how long you have to live?
- At which point would you prefer to stop treatment?
- Do you want to try every option, no matter how painful/expensive?
- Would you rather be at home or in a facility?
Thanks to advances in medicine and technology, we can be kept alive much longer than our bodies may naturally have been able to.
This is wonderful when we are on the road to recovery. However, there are times when it can just prolong pain and suffering.
It is important to decide if you want doctors to try to resuscitate you if you stop breathing or if your heart stops. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can cause injury if you are very elderly or very ill.
At some point in your illness or as you age, doctors may have to decide whether to place you on a feeding tube or a ventilator to help you breathe. These are both very useful after an accident with a chance of recovery.
However, in terminal cases, they may only extend suffering.
Important Legal Decisions
When it comes to end-of-life decision-making, you will need to get your affairs in order. There are various legal options to set out your wishes so that everyone in your family is aware. This will also protect you and make sure you get what you want.
These are some documents and legal decisions you can take:
A living will is one of several advance directives to guide your care when you are no longer able to. Everyone over the age of 18 should have one, even though we often think of these documents too late.
This document will outline exactly what medical treatment you wish to receive if you are seriously injured, in a coma, have advanced dementia, or are close to dying.
You can state at which point you believe your life is no longer worth living. For example, if you can no longer recognize loved ones, live in severe pain, or can no longer feed or bathe yourself.
You can choose the kind of palliative or hospice care you would like for end-of-life comfort, state the situation in which you would accept CPR, and outline your requests for pain relief.
A living will also allow you to convey whether you wish to donate your organs, tissues, or your body for scientific research.
You can sign this document in front of two witnesses or have it notarized if you wish.
Healthcare Power of Attorney
This advance directive allows you to choose the person who will make decisions for you when you are no longer able. Even if you have a living will, there may be a situation requiring a decision that you have not anticipated.
Your health care agent can be a member of your family, your spouse, or even a friend.
Different states have different rules about advance directives, so it is important to check which apply where you live.
Do Not Resuscitate or Intubate Order
If you do not wish to be resuscitated or intubated, you should express this to your physician. They will put a note of it in your medical record or help you fill out a Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form.
If you have a terminal illness or have been suffering a serious illness for a long time, you may not want your life extended. However, emergency workers are required to do everything to save your life.
Having a POLST will ensure your wishes are followed.
Your last will and testament will dictate how your estate is divided between loved ones after you die. Having a will avoids family conflict and will ease the legal process after you pass on.
If you have a significant amount of property and belongings, you should ask a lawyer to assist you in drawing up your will. However, if your estate is relatively simple, you can write it by hand or fill out a form that is witnessed and notarized.
Your will is also a good place to lay out your funeral wishes and name caretakers for your children or pets.
Financial Power of Attorney
This document will allow someone to make financial decisions when you are not able to.
This can range from managing the payment of bills to dealing with investments. If you do not have a power of attorney, a judge will have to appoint someone to manage your finances. This can lead to delays if there is a financial emergency.
Organize Your Documents
It is important to keep all of these crucial documents in a safe place and to ensure your family knows where to find them if you fall gravely ill or die.
Choosing Burial Options
Once you have decided how you would like to experience your final moments alive, it is helpful to choose your burial options.
Holding a funeral and deciding whether to go with a traditional burial or cremation can be stressful for the whole family. Your loved ones may disagree on how to proceed if you have not made your wishes clear.
Choosing a funeral home and leaving instructions on what you want to happen will make the whole process smoother.
Let’s have a look at the options.
This is a popular choice for people who are more traditional or have specific religious requirements. Some people also like the idea of being buried next to their family members and having a location where everyone can join together forever.
Having a traditional burial allows you to say farewell in a graveside ceremony. It will also give you a place to return to commemorate your loved one as the years pass.
Cremation has become the most popular choice in Canada. It is often the much cheaper option and is also considered more environmentally friendly.
People increasingly want to personalize their loved one’s farewell. Cremation allows the family to keep the ashes with them or scatter them in a symbolic location. The ashes can be divided between different family members, and some may even decide to turn them into jewelry or something creative.
You can still hold a proper funeral or memorial service to bid farewell to a loved one if you choose cremation. You can also organize a viewing before the cremation takes place.
Take Care of End-Of-Life Decision-Making
We cannot control when and how we die. However, we can take steps to make the process as painless and comforting as possible. When it is time for end-of-life decision-making, making the right medical and legal decisions will guide your loved ones through this difficult moment.
Pre-planning arrangements for burial or cremation will also remove some of your grieving family’s burden.
Did you find this article informative? Take a look at some of our other posts to help you manage your health and finances.