In my career as a physician, I witnessed, firsthand, both good and bad end-of-life decision-making by patients and their families. Those who had prepared for the inevitability of death by advance planning and had hope for their life’s meaning beyond the pain and distress of death were able to better accept and handle the realities of dying.
On the other hand, the dying process was often chaotic and resulted in prolonged suffering for those who had not embraced the joy of their lives and had not undertaken discussions or steps to ensure their dying wishes would be carried out.
When my wife, Nell, was diagnosed with incurable, advanced cancer at age 74 in 2021, we were blessed that we had discussed our dying wishes with each other and our daughters and had made plans for the transition to end-of-life well before Nell’s illness. Nell had also found a spiritual peace and meaning in her life through her family, her career as a scientist, and as a teacher, which provided comfort in her final days.
Steps we took to facilitate end-of-life decisions:
1) Moving into an apartment after our retirement, which made it much easier to care for Nell and avoided the hassle of disposing of our house after her death
2) Setting up estate-planning documents, including a healthcare power of attorney if we were unable to serve as our own advocates
3) Discussing with family our priorities for quality of life
As a result of these advance planning measures, our entire family was in agreement about Nell’s end-of-life care. We engaged hospice and home care services early, allowing us to provide comfort care in our apartment without need for hospitalization. Nell passed away peacefully on Aug. 31, 2021. I miss her every day, but I receive solace knowing that we provided Nell with the type of dying experience she wished.
Compassion & Choices, the national nonprofit organization dedicated to end-of-life choices, provides free, comprehensive planning tools available online at:
candc.org/endoflifeplanning. I encourage everyone to take advantage of this valuable resource.
John Lurain MD