A few years ago, my great grandfather, who suffered from cancer told us emphatically that he did not want anyone keeping him on ‘drips’ or life support. He was dying and he was ready to go. The family honored his wishes, for he has always been obstinate and forthright. He’d lived a long and happy life and knew that staying any longer would not make life any better. How many other people know when it’s time to let go? How many other families are refusing to let go?
End of life decisions are nothing lightly to discuss. In my great-grandfather’s case, he had advanced stage cancer. What about when it’s a young person who may have been in an accident, ends up in a coma, and the family tries to hold on in hopes of the person becoming conscious again?
A few weeks ago, popular medical drama Grey’s Anatomy aired an episode in which a young adult had to make end-of-life decisions on behalf of her parents. The family had been in an accident. The mother died on the scene. The father was hospitalized but needed to be resuscitated numerous times. A doctor asked the young lady about any discussions she had had with her parents about whether they wanted to be kept alive. She responded, “We don’t talk about things like that. We talk about normal things.”
Well, end of life decisions should become part our or new normal medical discussions. As we live longer and become engaged with more medical technologies, we need to start talking to each other–young and old–about what you want to happen if placed in a situation where you are unable to make medical decisions on your own.
In the middle of writing this post, I learned that my father had suffered an accident on the job. Although he was not badly hurt, I saw this as a clue for my own family to start making this part of our ‘normal things’. This decision was also made easier because my dad often spoke of how he wants his body handled after he dies.So, communicating about what to do if something serious happens was a natural follow-up question.