Sandy Adams was awarded the Community Impact Award in 2020 for her advance care planning work by the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce.

My exposure to death started at age 8 when a friend’s young brother died from a progressive and incurable disease.  Another friend’s father died from suicide, and a host of family and friends followed with deaths due to long and short illnesses, acute medical events, and accidents. Death created sadness and mixed emotions, however I noticed some differences in my loved ones (and myself) when more prepared.  The grief was no less but the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty varied tremendously.  And some of that uncertainty came when tough medical decisions were required.

When NPR’s Planet Money team aired the March 2014 piece featuring La Crosse, WI, called “The Town Where Everyone Talks About Death,” I was hooked on the idea that advance care planning (ACP) can truly make a difference.  Reporting that 96% of adults who died had advance directives (that would name a health care agent and/or clearly state goals for care) was impressive.  Even more so was the idea that so many individuals and families were talking about death (and life!).

My interest in ACP grew into passion when offered the opportunity to create a program within the health system where I worked.  I studied, gathered and created resources, talked with experts, learned how to facilitate ACP conversations, became an instructor and guide for others, reached into the community to develop partnerships, and worked to develop infrastructure and support within the health system.  I found energized colleagues and collaborators, and a shared sense of urgency to offer ACP information and support.

Clearly, the best time for individuals to learn about the benefits of ACP conversations and plans is NOT during a medical crisis.  We might alter our choices as circumstances change, however if we’ve chosen advocates (ideally officially named health care agent(s)) and shared our priorities, others can help us get the care we want.

I’m now retired and enjoy the opportunity to talk with individuals who want to consider options and learn more about advance care planning.  This work is never done and the more we become comfortable talking about death, the better we can plan for the unexpected.  Our family and other loved ones will thank us.