So much in life is out of our control, and, at times, the uncertainty causes frustration and stress. However, this doesn’t have to be the case at the end of life. The Five Wishes document is a way for you to communicate your desires for how you want to be treated—medically, physically, and spiritually—if you get seriously ill and/or death is near.
For your family, Five Wishes ends the bedside guessing game of what you want or do not want at the end of your life. In simple language, the booklet guides you through documenting choices regarding such topics as designating a decision-maker in the event you are non-responsive, your preferred level of life-sustaining medical support, your desired alertness level when pain medication is needed, and how you want your remains cared for after death.
History of Five Wishes
The Five Wishes document was created by the nonprofit Aging with Dignity with attorney Jim Towey, who provided legal counsel to Mother Teresa for 12 years until her death. It is a framework for conversations about medical choices that you should have with your family, loved ones, and healthcare providers. Five Wishes is a legal document for persons age 18 and older in California and 41 other states.
For families with an ailing loved one, Five Wishes helps facilitate conversation about the sensitive topic of impending death. All you need to do is fill out the pages, sign it, and have two witnesses sign—no notary required. Provide copies to your physician, family, and other important people who may be involved with your care.
Five Wishes as an Advance Healthcare Directive
Some people already have established a living will and/or power of attorney for healthcare, or a POLST Form (Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment) that record in advance your choices regarding medical life support and identify your representative for medical decisions in the event you become unable to communicate. Likewise, Five Wishes covers these topics in the first and second sections. However, Wishes Three, Four, and Five provide unique questions to help you specify more about what you envision for your final days.
Unique aspects of Five Wishes
Five Wishes also explores your understanding of hospice care and local hospice resources. You can define what comfort care is to you—for example, frequent warm baths, moist lips, favorite music or poetry.
You’ll also consider what brings dignity and meaning to your life and how these values affect care preferences. You can specify how you want to be treated with dignity, what brings you peace of mind, including talking about your spiritual needs. For example, you may want a spiritual leader to visit or a family member to hold your hand and pray with you. Perhaps you want the comfort of your pet at the bedside.
The document concludes with questions about how you want to be remembered, how you envision your funeral or memorial service, and other concerns that you may consider closure matters, including forgiveness and reconciliation.
How to obtain a Five Wishes document
Using this framework is a gift to yourself and your loved ones because they will know your wishes and desires. It brings peace of mind to your loved ones knowing how to treat you. You can obtain a hardcopy of the booklet from any member of your Hope Hospice team. People who are not on our service can order a copy for a nominal fee from the Aging With Dignity organization.
Hope offers complimentary in-service education about Five Wishes for local healthcare teams and group presentations for residents of senior residential communities. Please connect with our Outreach Team for more information.
The Rev. Melissa Tumaneng, MBA, MDIV, BCC, is an active member and Board Certified Chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains. She was ordained by the United Church of Christ and serves on the Northern California Nevada Conference Board Council as Vice-Moderator.