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Understand your priorities surrounding end of life by making your own bucket list

Among the most difficult and useful conversations that many will confront is determining and discussing end-of-life medical preferences with your family and your physician. One can be quickly overwhelmed by the endless list of details involved in coming to terms with what our wishes and preferences are when confronted with a catastrophic illness.

Rather than run head first into contemplating the hard issues, holding the conversation gently and entering it from the perspective of what your life goals are can provide deep insight into how to frame end-of-life medical preferences.

According to Stanford University researchers, sharing your “bucket list” with your doctor will serve to guide and implement future care. 1 The bucket list conversation is a simple strategy to help patients clarify health decisions. By knowing what your life goals are, your doctor will be better able to inform you of the various impacts of potential treatment options.

Palliative care professionals overwhelmingly report that the primary emotion that they witness when a patient is dying is regret. When we take the time to generate a bucket list we are initiating a narrative that can guide us to discover how we want to spend our final years, months, even days. Doing so will help learn how to prepare for a good end of life.

How to Create an End-of-Life Bucket List

You can start checking off your bucket list at any age! The things that you want to do before you die might be in your head. It might float through your thought stream from time to time when triggered by an event or conversation. Take the time to sit down and write out what you would like to do, see, visit, learn, experience in this life. Writing it down begins to put some reality around the possibility of it happening. Don’t quibble or reason; write it down no matter how outlandish, silly or improbable it seems. You can edit it and revise your list to your heart’s content.

If it is something that you are apt to procrastinate about, do it with a friend over a leisurely lunch. Have a conversation that sparks your heart and happy place, inspire one another with ideas and have fun. Do you want to travel? If so, where to? Do you want to learn something new like scuba diving or a language or perhaps you are eager to engage your creative juices and learn how to do mosaic or oil painting? Or is there a project or pursuit that you want to complete? Once you have a list in hand, begin to prioritize it. This is your list and you can always revise it. The point is that it will evoke a picture of how you would like to spend your time and what your priorities are moving forward.

Share Your Bucket List

Having this list in your back pocket will come in very handy when you begin to consider the very difficult conversation of what your wishes are for your end of life care. It will help you begin to untangle the many options that will come flying at you when presented with a critical diagnosis and having to clarify your end of life wishes.

This is a bit more palatable way of confronting this difficult topic. It will help you clarify things like:

  • Whether or not to pursue advanced medical care such as chemotherapy and radiation.
  • What type of measures do you want taken to ensure that you live, i.e. do you want to be kept on life support?
  • If your physician were to recommend an amputation, is that something that you would be willing to undergo?

These are just a few of the topics that come up around end of life care. They are difficult subjects to navigate and having an in-depth conversation with a palliative physician as well as the doctor that is treating you is important. Everyone involved will be better informed by how well they know about your life goals and priorities.



About the Author(s)

As a Volunteer Caregiver to the Zen Hospice Project and a Course Manager at the CareGivers Project, Audrey Meinertzhagen is passionate about improving the standards of care for older adults and educating caregivers on the principles of mindfulness and self-care.

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