It’s a new year – a time to resolve to improve your health and wellness. One important plan you can make is to do a living will.
Your living will states the care you do or don’t want if a major health crisis happens and you can’t speak for yourself. It involves talking with your family about your choices, naming a health surrogate and sharing your plan with your health surrogate, family and doctors. This can take away the guessing and burden for your loved ones as well as ensure your wishes are respected.
A Family Affair
Lolita Dash-Pitts is a lifelong St. Petersburg resident and Florida’s first certified health worker who serves as executive director of Front Porch Community Development Association, Inc. and in other community roles. As an Empath Health Care Council member, she was inspired to take action after hearing a living will presentation by Empath Health Community and Professional Relations Director Karen Davis-Pritchett.
“I was in awe. I thought, I’m going to do something. I made a commitment that night,” Dash-Pitts said.
She rallied her family, medical professionals and other community members together at her home for a spaghetti dinner, her husband’s famous pound cake and a conversation about living wills guided by Davis-Pritchett. About 18 people came and participated.
“Many people are reserved or say death’s taboo, it’s jinxed and we don’t want to talk about that. I thought if I asked everyone to come over, socialize and discuss living wills, they’d open up because we’d be amongst family. I was amazed at the response. My parents were on board first. My mother-in-law was on board with her family. It was like the full support system,” she explained.
The group’s discussion generated important thought and action.
She added, “Karen came in as one of the family and made them feel that way. They opened up and asked questions. She brought living wills and a few people did it on the spot and some said they’d bring them home and do it. A lot of them said they never thought they’d do something like this but felt happy they did it at my home because they felt comfortable. A few people told me they went out and talked about it in their medical facilities. One individual had two sisters in Georgia and shared the information and they asked how they could get one. It’s all about sharing.”
A Path to Community Health
Dash-Pitts joined the University of South Florida’s Center for Equal Health for grant work on reducing breast, prostate and colorectal cancers in the community. She soon came face-to-face with cancer in her family.
“My mom was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. When she was diagnosed, they caught it in time. It was a life-altering experience for me because my health exposure allowed me to be more educated and deal with my mother’s illness. She’s an 11-year survivor and in total remission now. God works in mysterious ways and I feel he led me to be with my mom and in the community where I needed to be,” she shared.
Dash-Pitts finds her work rewarding.
“I have a stake in it. I enjoy helping people. I’m an advocate for health in all aspects, not just physical but mental, financial and social as well. My calling is to assist and provide resources to get to the next level. It starts with being healthy and a living will is one of the pieces of the puzzle to make sure it comes to fruition,” she added.
Crucial Conversations and Decisions
It took courage for Dash-Pitts to discuss planning with her family.
“You just can’t dive in, especially with our culture. My husband is my soulmate and best friend and we both have elderly parents. It took a long time for us to start casually talking about it. I said, we’ve put this off long enough and tomorrow’s not promised. I’ve seen so many families divided and in turmoil when those types of decisions need to be made. I told him, there’s no way that’s going to happen to my family, we’re going to have advance directives,” she said.
The couple did their living wills together and talked with family.
“I wanted him and he wanted me to be clear about our wishes. And we needed to be clear about who’d be the responsible person (health surrogate). Sometimes it’s not best to put someone who’s close. He said perhaps we both should consider someone else and then that wouldn’t put the strain on us. We ended up doing it both ways. I’ve seen the impact with my family. We are more open to things when it comes to death and illness,” she said.
Planning ahead brings clarity and comfort.
She shared, “We plan for vacations and everything else, why is this less significant? We have to live for today, reflect from the past and prepare for the future. God doesn’t want us to be in a place of suffering, so my faith is to do things decent and in order. I’d prefer my journey be as smooth and peaceful as possible. Having a living will eliminates confusion or misunderstanding and promotes unity at a most critical time in life. I want my family to say, we know we did what she wanted. And I want to do the same for my family.”
Please don’t wait for a medical emergency to make decisions. This year – talk with your family, do your living will and help ensure your wishes are honored.
Call Empath Health for assistance with living wills at (727) 467-7423 or visit us online for information and resources.