Take the Fear Out of Advanced Directives

One of my best friends lost her brother rather suddenly and tragically this year. Her family was left trying to do their best to guess what his wishes may have been during one of the hardest times of their lives. Unfortunately, this “not knowing” is a common scenario. We tend to shy away from having conversations about death or we just don’t think about having them when we’re “young” and healthy. Sometimes it takes a tragedy like this to start the conversation… but it doesn’t have to if you’re informed.


Have you heard of advance directives or a living will? Have you been “meaning to” get around to doing it? Maybe you have talked to the people you love about it but haven’t put anything in writing? As the saying goes “there is no time like the present” to act and make your end-of-life wishes known.


According to the Mayo Clinic, “Living wills and other advance directives are written, legal instructions regarding your preferences for medical care if you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Advance directives guide choices for doctors and caregivers if you’re terminally ill, seriously injured, in a coma, in the late stages of dementia, or near the end of life.”


Advance Directives include 2 important components; a living will and a medical durable power of attorney. It’s a lot to think about and most of us don’t know where to start. The company Compassion and Choices offers some great resources to help you start thinking about this tough topic. They have a Values Worksheet that can be helpful as a place to start.


Check out this excellent TED talk on the subject called "Don’t Take Death Lying Down"



A few years ago, my friends and I had a “Zombie Living Will Party”. Basically, we all dressed up like zombies and had a lawyer talk to us about advance directives, living wills, and medical power of attorney.

Fortunately, the lawyer was a close friend and a good sport. Most of us took the opportunity to complete our documents at this time. What none of us did, however, was give signed copies of these documents to the people that need them. My documentation sat in a drawer at my house: officially useless.


Laws about living wills and advance directives differ from state to state so it is important to find the appropriate resources in your state. This WEBSITE has links to the laws in your state.


Take control of your life in the here and now to help preserve your wishes in the future and to take that burden from the ones you love. It’s much easier than you think!


Patricia Graham, MSN, RN, CNE

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