A close friend’s ailing 92-year-old mother moved into his house the week before Christmas, prompting conversations about emergency procedures and advanced directives. Advanced directives are the legal documents that make clear to your physician, family and caregivers your preferences for care in the event of a life-threatening accident or illness.
While his mother had completed and filed advanced directives for her care in the hospital, she had never considered what might happen if she collapsed at home. My friend certainly wouldn’t want burly emergency medical technicians to start CPR on his 71-pound mother, but he’d never asked her how she felt about a "do not resuscitate" statement. Then he realized, as did I, along with the rest of our circle of friends, that none of us had gotten around to completing our own advanced directives.
There’s no time like the present to do it.
Thinking about these issues and having straight-forward conversations with those we love to make our wishes clear may be daunting at first. But the confusion, anxiety, conflict and heartache we can eliminate by making and communicating these decisions far outweighs the initial discomfort.
You don’t need a lawyer to develop or complete advanced directives. The National Institutes of Health has a wonderful website on advanced directives  that walks you through the process, and the Veterans Administration has created a guidebook  that is easily understood and does a great job of anticipating questions about particular issues. Finally, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization has helpfully catalogued every state’s legal forms and attached suggestions about how and where to file them; here are North Carolina’s .
Feel free to share these resources with congregants, family and friends, so that once we’ve checked this resolution off of our 2010 lists, we can all breathe a little easier. You can also link with a wonderful toolkit resource from Duke’s Institute on Care at the End of Life .
Yours in health,
Robin Y. Swift, MPH
Health Programs Director
Clergy Health Initiative