A remarkable story hit the news last week that described a teachable moment about commitment. For forty years Bruce Farrer, an English teacher in Canada, had his freshman students write a letter to themselves that expressed their hopes and dreams. Similar to time capsules, he stowed the letters and mailed them back to the students twenty years later. Each student was then able to reflect on how well they lived up to their intentions. Some students married the girl of their dreams while others fell short of their career ambitions. The message was less about having high aspirations and more about honoring their previous commitments.
I often wonder if patients truly consider what the future holds regarding their health. I attest to caring for many despondent patients and wonder if they had any hopes and dreams about dying purposely. Would I retain my own ability to state when I might or might not treat an illness? If people were encouraged to write notes to themselves at the age of forty-five and received it at seventy-five, would they recall their intentions to live life fully and die with dignity? As life progresses, illness is bound to happen. How we respond to illness can occur through happenstance, commitment or a healthcare directive.
I liken a healthcare directive to making our mark in life; an expression that makes people take notice or affects an important outcome. Whether we are fifteen years old or eighty-five years old, most of us wish to remain relevant; to be heard, responsible and connected to our intentions. While life may not turn out as planned, would we retain the intention to balance our physical and spiritual well-being? Will our lives be marked by fear or personal security; confinement or freedom; confusion or peace of mind? Naturally, when a healthcare directive does not mark my words; how will the record show that I made my mark in life deliberately?
What matters in life is the ability to follow through with our intentions; actions speak louder than words. This is the mark of dignity that is best ascribed to earlier in life and applied at the end of life. It is unlikely people die with dignity without first realizing their dignity in life that is marked by self-determination and commitment. Ultimately, the choices we make earlier in life affect our future hopes, dreams and quality of life.