Death, taxes and advance care planning

It was Benjamin Franklin who wrote, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” And this April is no different. As Tax Day nears, Americans are preparing their IRS filings, just as they do every year. But what about that other certainty, death? April is Advance Care Planning Month and the 16th is National Healthcare Decisions Day. This year, Hospice of Anchorage wants to encourage all Alaskans to consider not only their taxes, but also their death.

Death and disability sometimes arrive suddenly, but often they arrive slowly, with small impairments popping up along the way and accumulating over time. As the body ages, adapting to change becomes key to having a good life and ultimately, a good death. Part of this adaption includes abandoning shame and accepting help, and this too is a process. It invites us to face the reality of death and reflect on what the rest of life should look and feel like.

Often advance care planning is focused on the completion of advanced directives such as living wills or durable power of attorney documents. And about 30 percent of Americans have completed advanced directives. However, people are more than just medical and legal decisions and documents. Advance care planning is a process, not a singular event. Ongoing conversations about beliefs, values, concerns, and preferences regarding not just death but end of life should be shared. Research has shown that often, advance care planning is a reaction to a health scare, and there is often increased distress in both the person and family, making decisions more difficult and less likely to be followed. In reality, advance care planning is more fruitful when it is a proactive process of communicating wishes and desires around physical, emotional, mental and spiritual caretaking at the end of life.

What is a good death? Have you ever considered your own death and your wishes around how you want to die? Have you communicated them to your loved ones? This April, take time to think and reflect upon your wishes for comfort, your desired quality of life, where you want to die and who you want to be with. Think beyond life saving measures and allocating your belongings in your will. Engage in a caring conversation with those you love about how you want to live and die.

Hospice of Anchorage is here to welcome you and your loved ones to consider advance care planning. Please stop by our resource center and chat with one of our staff to start the process. We have free books that offer practical guides on end-of-life planning, advanced directive documents, life review and legacy projects, and more. It’s never too early to start considering what you value most and how you can continue to hold those things close as you live life and face death.

Sarah Pype is a Master of Social Work Intern at Hospice of Anchorage.