As we look back over the past two years of the pandemic, the topic of death and dying has become something we’ve begun to face and discuss more than ever before. Last Saturday, April 16, was National Healthcare Decision Day, an opportunity to talk deeply and honestly about your end-of-life wishes with those you love and with your doctor.

Most of us would rather not think about what the end of our lives will be like. Like having a baby, many people avoid thinking about the details and hope that doctors will take care of things when health crises arise.

After having my first child at a hospital, I learned that I had choices about childbirth. I decided to have my other children at home (if all was going well) rather than in a medicalized environment. Being surrounded by family during the birth and recovery process was so much better for me, my family and my other children.

I have realized that my image of the end of life is also about being at home surrounded by loved ones rather than all alone in a sterile hospital setting. But as we have learned in the past two years, this separation is all too common in the midst of an epidemic, and many of those who are facing their final days do so in a medical setting.

The default is to “do everything possible” at the end of life. And yet when facing a terminal illness, it is possible to make choices to maximize comfort and minimize medical interventions to allow people to live their best lives to the end. In conversations with my cousin, I learned that my dying uncle, who was suffering from vascular disease, would not have a leg amputated but would go into hospice and be able to be present to his children in his final days without trying to “recover” from invasive surgery during this time.

I have also talked with my brother about being at the side of a dear friend in hospice. He and his friend live in a state with the option to make decisions to avoid unbearable suffering in their final days through medical aid in dying. The final celebration of this friend’s life, in the presence of his family and friends, was a gift to all those who were present and provided his friend with an option not to prolong suffering at the end of his life.

I hope you will take the time to have this important conversation about your choices at the end of life. Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit organization, has free online planning resources (, including in the case of a dementia diagnosis. You can use these resources to make plans and share your end-of-life wishes with your loved ones.

Teresa Powell, a longtime Oak Park resident, is a former village clerk.

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