As soon as Ethel Herring opened the front door and walked into the house, she knew her mother had died. She could feel it in the energy in the room. It hung in the air like a pause.
“I walked right into the bedroom. I just knew the minute I opened the door to the house. There’s a lack of energy. It’s like a lightbulb goes out,” she recalls, as swirling plumes of steam rise from her mug of tea on the table. Ethel is warm, vivacious, and sharp — despite the fact that she has been laying low, recovering from “whatever that cold crud was.” Along her coffee table are family photos and a card that reads I Stand With Planned Parenthood.
Her mother’s death may have been decades ago, but she recalls it as if it was yesterday. Deeply moved by the death of both of her parents, those experiences shaped her own healthcare wishes. For Ethel, choosing to learn about an Advance Directive was an easy choice.
Years ago, her father had a massive stroke, from which doctors said he would never recover. In a sense, Ethel considered herself lucky. She knew exactly what to do. Thirty five years ago, her dad told her that if he were to ever in an unresponsive state, he would want them to “pull the plug.” Because they had communicated, she wouldn’t have to navigate a difficult decision in the dark. She didn’t have to guess at what he wanted. She knew.
Ethel thought of her own children, now adults. She knew that she wanted to spare her children from facing any uncertainty were she ever to be incapacitated. It is an added burden she did not want them to bear.
“My children should not have to struggle through making the decision. They should be as clear with it as I was [with my parents]. So if I have it down on paper, there are no arguments. This is what mom wanted, let’s do what mom wanted.”
Ethel reached out to Hospice of Santa Cruz County to learn about Advance Directives. She was amazed by the quality of the one-on-one consultation — it opened up healthcare considerations that she had never even thought of, and helped her make her own choices. She also loved the fact that it was free. (She joked: “It was VERY helpful. I’m the kind of person where if something is offered to me, and I don’t have to pay for it, and there’s a chance I can learn something, why not?”)
The process helped Ethel realize that she needed to rethink her designated healthcare agent (the person who she assigned to make medical decisions for her). She had previously chosen a dear friend in Los Angeles — six hours away — but realized that having someone local made more sense. Ultimately, the process helped Ethel designate a friend in Santa Cruz, who also happens to be a nurse.
“It felt to me that if there was someone more emotionally removed it might be a little easier all around,” Ethel says. She felt relief in knowing she can trust a friend with medical knowledge. Her children were very supportive of her choice.
Peace of Mind Begins With Honest Conversations
Completing her Advance Directive has been one less thing for Ethel and her family to worry about. When asked if she had any words of wisdom for anyone who might feel anxious about making the first step toward securing their wishes, she shared, “Whenever you have to make decisions about anything, the more it’s talked about, the more at ease you feel with the decision. There is a peace of mind, both for you and your family members.”