“There is always a plan” is a favorite saying of Kelly Grosklags, LICSW, BCD, a Minneapolis-based oncology psychotherapist and grief counselor, as she works with patients facing the end of life. When you’re in treatment, there is a plan for different therapies to try and ways to relieve side effects. If you stop anti-cancer treatments, there will still be a plan for controlling symptoms such as pain and fatigue through hospice care. As difficult as it may be, it’s important to make a plan for how you wish to die.
Thinking about the dying process is the scariest part for most people because the experience is a complete unknown. But in the U.S. especially, the medical system is oriented toward keeping people alive, even if that means intensive care and assistive machines such as ventilators and feeding tubes. Unless you clearly say “no” to that in advance and let your family know your preferences, it’s possible that you could experience interventions you do not want. To capture how you want things done in writing, advance directives and living wills are a start, but often they use a lot of technical language that isn’t easily interpreted or understood. In addition to reviewing these documents and telling your loved ones where they are, it’s a good idea to share your wishes with them in plain language.
Kelly Grosklags recommends a living will template called Five Wishes. The template can be used for a small fee ($5) and allows you to simply and clearly define your wishes about:
- the person you want to make medical decisions for you when you can’t
- the kind of medical treatment you do or don’t want
- how comfortable you want to be
- how you want people to treat you
- what you want your loved ones to know
Whether you use this template or something else, make a plan in writing, share it with loved ones, and make it easy to understand. Try to do this early enough so that you have the energy to work through it. Here are some other key questions you may be thinking about at this time:
- How and Where Do I Want to Die?
- How Will My Family and I Know When I Am in the Final Stages of Life?