Barbara Bush’s Last Legacy: the Importance of End-of-Life Decisions

Barbara Bush was the first, First Lady of my youth.

I was born in 1978, so this isn’t entirely true.

I was around for some of Rosalyn Carter’s tenure and I certainly remember Nancy Reagan.

However, it was only during the Bush presidency (the elder) that I began to appreciate politics and the role of a President and his Wife in American life.

I thought the world of Barbara Bush.

Barbara was an elegant matriarch and a champion of noble causes and platforms.

Her recent passing closes a chapter and leaves a void, without a doubt.

Former first lady Barbara Bush, beloved wife of George H. W. Bush, passed away yesterday at her home in Houston, Texas. She was 92 years old. The first lady will be remembered for her campaign to improve literacy across America, through her the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. She was also involved with the battle against childhood leukemia, a cause near to heart since she lost her own child to leukemia at the age of three.

There’s one more thing Mrs. Bush will be remembered for, and that is the spotlight she shone on end-of-life decisions. Two days before her passing on April 17, the Bush family announced that their mother had decided “not to seek medical treatment and will focus on comfort care.” Mrs. Bush suffered from congestive heart failure and COPD, and decided to stop fighting her terminal illness in favor of comfort, or palliative, care.

The announcement sparked national conversation about the definition of comfort care and end-of-life care in general. Nobody likes to contemplate the end of their own life, but it’s important to think about it before it’s too late. Many elderly people don’t make their wishes known to their family or medical providers, and sometimes they’re no longer verbal or even conscious when those crucial decisions need to be made. Barbara Bush, in publicly announcing her medical choices, raised awareness that will hopefully spur more seniors to document their own choices and preferences.

Writing an Advance Healthcare Directive

It’s never too early to start thinking about writing your advance directive, or living will. The advance healthcare directive is a document that allows you to state your wishes for your end-of-life care, in case you become unable to communicate. Even if you are still able to communicate, having your choices documented can help ensure that your wishes are honored.

There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to your end-of-life healthcare. These decisions are highly personal, and each person should create their living will after much thought and consideration. You may also want to consult with your lawyer to make sure your living will is valid and can’t be contested.

Like the late first lady, many people with terminal illnesses opt to receive comfort care, also known as palliative care. With palliative care, all “extreme” measures, such as ventilators or CPR, are discontinued. The focus is on alleviating pain and managing symptoms. This allows the patient to die peacefully, often in their own home.

Other people prefer to pursue all life-prolonging measures available, in the belief that life itself—no matter how limited or painful—is worth prolonging. In all cases, the patient’s wishes should be honored as much as possible.

If your elderly parent doesn’t have some form of living will, start the conversation today. Having an advance directive will make sure your parent gets the care he wants and deserves.

About Judah Gutwein, L.N.H.A.

As a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator, with additional years of experience as an Admissions and Marketing Director, I am intimately familiar with the challenges of building and maintaining a vibrant census in nursing and rehab facilities. Regency Nursing Centers has a well deserved reputation for excellence in healthcare and I'm extremely proud of our achievements! Thanks for reading our Regency Blog!
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