Advance Directives Allows Family to Truly “Be At Ease”

Part of my job as a chaplain is to visit patients in the hospital. During a recent round I came upon Emil (not his real name), who was recovering from surgery to repair multiple injuries sustained as a result of a serious car accident.

Over the course of several days, he rebuffed attempts to talk about whether he wanted to complete an advance directive for his medical record with the hospital. “God will tell me when I need one” was his response. I would then shift topic and we would talk sports, or whatever else he was interested in sharing. His wife happened to be there on the last of these conversations.  She intervened to say she wanted him to have one, so she would know what to do in case something ever happened to him. After further resistance, I asked him why he was fighting the need to complete an advance directive.

Only then did he reveal that he had been his father’s healthcare agent and six months prior to his accident, he had had to fulfill his father’s wishes and “pull the plug”. In his mind he had killed his father and he didn’t want to burden his wife with that same kind of decision. This was a struggle he had not even been able to share with his wife. I stayed with him for a while, and told him that what he had shown was the greatest love and respect by fulfilling his father’s wish, and his responsibility as his father’s health care agent.

Later that day, his wife stopped to tell me that both she and her husband had completed their advance directives. The next time I saw them, the tension between them and within Emil himself had evaporated. They had achieved the peace of mind that only advance care planning can bring. They were “At Ease”.

Don Andler, Chaplain
Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital, Barrington, IL