This month we will celebrate Christ’s victory over the grave, the one thing that zaps some amount of fear we as humans hold about the death of our earthly journey. At some point we have to accept our finite time here on earth and trade the known for the unknown, moving forward in faith. Sometimes I wish we did not have to go through Lent every year…but I admit I could not give up having Easter annually! I prefer the light of Easter to the darkness that the journey of Lent can be. Yet Lent reminds me of the how much and how badly I need Easter. As is often said, often the bad things help us appreciate the good!
So it seems fitting that April is the Advanced Directives month. This is a time when we encourage and remind all people, of all ages, to have documentation and discussions with loved ones about how we want to be medically cared for if we cannot speak for ourselves. This Lent season I was provided with yet another example of how very important this is; not only for the one who is ill and cannot speak but even more so for the loved one standing at the bedside (…and for the medical professional managing the care).
My uncle has had very bad heart disease for a long time with much of his heart greatly damaged from previous heart attacks, and rhythm irregularities requiring a special type of pacemaker. He is only in his 60’s, so very young for this degree of heart disease. He made sure he had a written advanced directive and had discussed its contents with his loved ones. One stormy early March night his pace-maker could not change his near fatal heart rhythm and he went to the local hospital only to be airlifted to a the regional medical center. At both places he was provided with state of the art medical care for several days. My aunt, who has already buried 3 of her 4 children and cannot imagine life with out her spouse, went home and retrieved his advanced directive. She knew what it said because they had talked about it in detail. When the medical team offered yet one more thing to try with a small chance of working and likely leaving him greatly impaired the rest of his life…she would have gladly taken it. She just wanted him alive, happy to care for him. Yet she knew those were her wishes, not his. She prayed, she cried, she talked to us- her family, she went over things with the medical staff again and again, she reread his wishes and replayed those conversations in her mind. Finally she rallied herself, knowing she had to let him go and honor his wishes, not her own. There were last kisses, last hand squeezes, last I love you’s. Then there in the last act of greatest love of all, she let him go, asking God to welcome him into the glories of heaven.
Please don’t miss here that his greatest and heroic act of love was to complete those advanced directives and have those hard conversations about his wishes!! Without that, even knowing his demeanor and his need to be fully alive, she could have never made this choice…the fear, guilt, possibility of being wrong, and her desire to keep him in any condition would have been the louder voice in her head.
At Easter, God in Jesus modeled that great love almost always has times of hard decisions and heroic acts…like sending your Son to the cross. And yet, true love gathers up its strength and conquers. True love acts like true love. Who do you love? Have you heroically completed advanced directive forms? Have you loved enough to have hard conversations of truth about those wishes? Each time you have them, they will get easier and more fully understood. Your loved one will remember clearly your wishes if that day comes and it will allow your voice to be louder in their head than their own.
ONE LAST thing…Many people fear advance directives gives permission to medical professionals to not do everything possible to keep you alive and return you to a functioning level of life. This is not true. Remember medical professionals go into their field to save people. It’s why they are there. When someone dies in their care, even with advanced directives, they mourn and experience a sense of failure. Yet the reality is sometimes there is no more to be done, and then we have to put aside our pride and need to conquer, and make death a place of comfort, welcoming heaven.
CHALLENGE: Have copies of advanced directives (I have many I can share, even ones in Easter ink colors!) out at Easter. Share your wishes, encourage others to share theirs and complete them. This is not just for people over a certain age, this is for all adults! Once completed give copies to your doctor, your loved one and keep one for yourself. Be a love hero. HE IS RISEN INDEED!!!
Kaye Wothe, parish nurse, Blessed to be on the journey with you.