Planning Ahead—Are You Really Prepared?

Planning Ahead—Are You Really Prepared?

We often make plans for many things in our life, such as buying a first home or car, weddings, graduations, family trips, college applications, and baby showers, just to name a few; but one thing most of us don’t make plans for is “end of life.” As nurses we all have admitted patients to the unit and asked the question “Do you have a living will/advance directive?” This question is asked as part of the routine admission process in the ER, long-term care, or if a patient is having surgery, but how many of us actually have one of our own?

Last month I attended the Black Nurses Rock 3rd Annual Convention and had the opportunity to attend the session “VITAS Advanced Care Planning.” This was a very valuable, informational, and eye-opening presentation. It was amazing that in a room of over 200 nurses, only a handful actually had their own living will/advance directive. As nurses, we always care for others and forget about ourselves.  Although we know that death is part of the life-cycle, this is often a difficult topic to discuss. One of the key points that was addressed was “starting the conversation.” We all need to get our affairs in order to make our wishes known to family and friends. There is enough stress with losing a family member, so there does not need to be the added stress of trying to deal with making hard choices without knowing your wishes.

We all need to take the time to address and make sure that family members will not have to guess what is wanted at the end of life. There was a document presented called “Five Wishes,” which is very clear and easy to understand. It is a living will that addresses the personal, emotional, and spiritual needs, as well as the medical wishes that a person wants. This living will is more personal than the standard living will and helps you and your family plan ahead for end-of-life decisions. It is divided into five parts and addresses the following topics: the person that you want to make care decisions for you when you cannot, what medical treatments you want or do not want, how comfortable you want to be, how you want people to treat you, and what you want loved ones to know.

The Five Wishes document is valid in the District of Columbia and 35 states, but you are encouraged to still complete a standard living will/advance directive if your state is not included. One quote that had a great impact from the keynote speaker, Captain James Dickens, DNP, RN, was “Stay ready, so you will be ready.”  So, what are you waiting for? Start planning today for the peace of mind for you and your family.

For more info on Five Wishes, visit