As I was saying, each year I toast to my grandfather with a porter.
I don’t toast to him in sadness, but always in celebration. He lived a good life. And most importantly, he went out on his terms.
One of the things I take solace in with his death is that my mother and aunt knew exactly what he wanted before he died, and they were able to give it to him. A final trip to the beach, a few final days surrounded by everyone he loved and he was perfectly happy.
With Tuesday marking National Health Care Decisions Day, I sat down with my mom to fill out an advance directives form.
An advance directive is a set of wishes regarding medical treatment made to ensure that those wishes are carried out if the person is ever unable to communicate them to a doctor.
For those who don’t know, my mom, aside from being a certified kick-ass mother, works at Frederick Memorial Hospital, and she has spearheaded an effort that has gained national recognition to ensure as many patients as possible have an advance directive.
She often uses my grandfather as an example for why these documents can be so helpful. But there’s data behind it too.
The advance directive is part of a movement in the health care community for families to have what is being dubbed “the conversation,” a family-style conversation about what their wishes may be if they’re ever in a position where they can’t communicate for themselves.
Studies have shown that depression rates six months after losing a loved are lower for families who had this conversation, largely because they know they acted on their family member’s best interests.
And this conversation is becoming less taboo. In 2015, only 1 percent of patients at FMH filled out an advance directive. In four years, the hospital has increased that number to 47 percent — 20 percentage points above the national average. The number of families having the talk are even higher. But it’s still a conversation not everyone is comfortable with.
Growing up in a family with a mom and stepdad both in health care, these types of conversations may not have been commonplace, but we certainly had them. Nothing was taboo to talk about in my family — and that included death.
So having the conversation of what I want to happen medically if I’m ever knocking on death’s door was easy. But it’s surprising for me to see how many people don’t want to broach the topic of their own death or the death of their loved ones. My girlfriend, for instance, can’t stomach the conversation about her parents’ death, and she’s convinced herself they’re going to live forever.
I’m a little more pragmatic about death. It’s going to happen to all of us, so we might as well go out how we want. But until filling out my advance directive, I hadn’t thought much about my own.
I hadn’t thought about where I’d want to die, or how hard I’d want people to fight to try to keep me alive.
So, in the interest of openness and hoping to make conversations about death a little less taboo, I decided to share my wishes for when I die.
I’ve selected my two best buddies, Ethan and Sean, to be my primary agent and act on my behalf if I can’t communicate. They are under strict instructions to follow my strict instructions. I could’ve picked my girlfriend, or my mom, but it doesn’t seem fair to burden my girlfriend with that decision and my mom probably won’t be alive by the time I die. I know this because I promised Becky I’d outlive her, and she promised me that we’d spend at least 60 years together. So given that my mom is (ahem) years old, if you add 60 to that, the chances of her being around to execute my advance directive are slim.
When I envision my death, I don’t imagine any specific place, but I guess Camden Yards might be a nice place to go out. I do envision people, though. I’d like my friends and family to be there. Just because dying alone seems, well, lonely.
I’ll digress for a second to say that one of the questions on the advance directive asked what my wishes would be if death were imminent and I were pregnant. I want to tell the world that if I’m about to die and I’m pregnant, please call the Frederick News-Post and give them the scoop. Also, all checks should be made payable to the Allen Etzler Foundation, which will be used to create the Allen Etzler School for the Gifted.
It’s hard filling out what your medical wishes might be when you’re just 27. I still feel like I have a lot of life left to live, and therefore, I might be more willing to have doctors take a few steps to keep me alive.
But the one thing I’ve never wanted to be in my life is a burden. So I don’t want my death to burden anyone else. I don’t even want to be a burden to the doctor charged with looking out for me.
So for nearly every answer, I requested that doctors allow a natural death to occur. Even at 27, I don’t want extraordinary measures taken to keep me alive. I’m not interested in sacrificing my quality of life just for a couple extra weeks, months or years of being miserable. If I can’t communicate or get around or enjoy food, I’m not sure life is worth living.
So, now you guys know my wishes. You also have strict instructions to ensure that Ethan and Sean stick to my strict instructions if I’m ever near death.
You also have strict instructions to at least begin broaching this conversation. It’s an important one to have. I’ve seen families tear themselves apart from the inside over the death of a loved one. It doesn’t need to be that way. It might not ever be easy. Planning for my own death is kind of weird. Thinking of my family members dying makes me cry. But it’s better than not knowing what someone wants until it’s too late to ask.
I miss my grandfather — and my other grandparents who have since died — every day. But our family stuck together through of all of those deaths. And knowing what people wanted when they died is a big reason why.