Maude was young, still driving, only 83 her last birthday. The kids made her wear the Life Alert necklace, and it was a blessing because when Maude fell she hit her head on the credenza and was knocked out cold.

When the children came to Mercy General she was still unconscious, connected to multiple machines, and there were decisions to be made. Not wanting to lose their mother at such a young age, the children got together and told the doctor, “Do everything necessary to keep her with us.”

The sad news is Maude had never talked to her children about what she wanted. She hated the idea of tubes, mechanical breathing machines, and living without being “whole.”

But she woke up just that way. She had suffered a major stroke.

It doesn’t have to happen that way.

Anytime you are looking forward to being with your loved ones, consider starting a conversation that might not be one of your usual topics of discussion. Talk to your spouse, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles about what they want when they are close to dying and death.

You might start that conversation asking about the circumstances of another person’s death and their thoughts on it. Perhaps talk about a recent hospital story you heard involving life-saving machines, and solicit their opinion.

If they are resistant, you might have to try again another time. But be persistent; finding out their thoughts is the least you should do. Having any information at all might help you when that day comes and you are asked to make a decision on their behalf.

At best, have your loved ones write out advance directives. Advance directives have two parts: a living will and a health care power of attorney. A living will includes one’s end-of-life care wishes. A durable health care power of attorney is someone who will speak for a person about health care issues in the event that person is unable to speak for himself or herself.

In South Carolina and 41 other states, a simple document called Five Wishes has been accepted as legal for advance directives. It is available online at or by calling 1-888-594-7437. Many hospice organizations in the area have copies to give out.

Five Wishes is written in simple, easy-to-understand language so that anyone can fill it out at home. Separated into five parts, the document asks for the name of the person you want to speak for you, medical treatments you want, comfort measures you want, how you want people to treat you, and what you want people to know.

Once you have finished and have the document witnessed, you will have your advance directives in place.

It’s never too soon to give your family a gift that truly embodies peace: a conversation about life and how you (and they) want to live the last part of it.

Sally Wogsland, RN, BSN and Certified Senior Advisor, is co-owner of ComForCare Home Care.