Although these conversations can be tough, it is important to take any opportunity to talk about the importance of advance care planning, to ensure wishes are known so they can ease the burden on their loved ones.
It seems like death has always been a part of my life. At the age of 7, after years of playing “nurse”, my grandpa died in our home. It all seemed very natural to me. However, at the age of 18, I did not expect to be facing end of life planning with my father and it all became very foreign. He was undergoing testing and in need of a liver transplant. We hit obstacle after obstacle during the process but we never gave up hope, never thought of or talked about the alternative. After 4 long years and a month long hospitalization, he was told that there was nothing else that could be done and would be sent home with hospice. We really didn't grasp what that meant. No advance directives were completed and he, of course, remained a full code. We never discussed his desires but rather our goals to have him recover. About 3 weeks later, he declined suddenly. Our hospice nurse came to the home and said he was "actively dying"-a term we were not familiar with or ready to hear. He was starting to lose consciousness, but I was able to ask if he was “giving up on us" and he nodded yes. At that point, we did not opt for any life prolonging measures, he passed quickly and peacefully a couple hours later. I'm so grateful that he was lucid and we honored his wishes for this has eliminated any guilt for decisions my family might had made.
After losing my father, I found myself newly married, recently graduated from college and in the middle of a major life change. My husband and I chose to move in with my mom to aid in her new transition to becoming a widow. I had known early on I wanted to be a social worker but hadn't planned on working with this population, however, I feel like I was called to work with individuals who are facing the end of their life. My losses had given me a purpose. It is an honor and a privilege to work with patients/families on this leg of their journey. Although these conversations can be tough, it is important to take any opportunity to talk about the importance of advance care planning, to ensure wishes are known so they can ease the burden on their loved ones.
Vanessa has been the Palliative Pathways Outreach Coordinator for Hospice of the West since mid-2017. Vanessa graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelors degree in Social Work. She has been working as a hospice and palliative care Social Worker for over 15 years. She is currently a member of the Thoughtful Life Conversations Committee which empowers Arizonans to make their life wishes and care directives known. She has a passion for advocating for patients and encouraging open communication regarding end of life planning.