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Working Remotely and Making End-of-Life Decisions for Your Family

Working Remotely and Making End-of-Life Decisions for Your Family

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By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University

I recently wrote about the benefits of working remotely. One of those benefits is the ability to take care of family situations without taking time off from work. I had the opportunity to take advantage of such flexibility when my parents were in the last six weeks of their lives.

That type of situation can result in a variety of strong emotions and the need for an anchor to get through such a difficult time. My anchor was the ability to work while taking care of the needs of my parents.

Although I once worked in a hospital and was responsible for the benefits side of Human Resources, I was not prepared for my personal situation. I knew what had to be done, but my emotions hampered my ability to make quick, necessary decisions.

Both of my employers during these crises had an excellent remote work policy and good technology associated with that policy. I was able to continue working on projects while being available to meet with doctors to discuss my parents’ care. The hospital and other medical facilities were up to date, so I had access to free WiFi in areas set aside for people like me to work when we weren’t in their loved ones’ room.

Our Discussions Focused on ‘End of Life’ Matters Not ‘How to Deal with the Dying Process’

Even though my sister and I had “the talk” with our parents, our discussions focused on what to do “at the end,” rather than “what to do as we go through the process.” In order to maintain sanity and balance in life at such times, it’s best to have a plan of action on how to make it through the process. Dr. Hassan Patail, an internal medicine resident and blogger, sums it up when he states, “End-of-life is not an easy topic to discuss when a patient is healthy and certainly not an easy topic to discuss in the hospital while a patient is sick.”

As I reflect on my experiences with both of my parents, I wish we had spent more time discussing the “what if” scenarios that could occur during their last weeks versus discussing only what to do at the very end. When the Annals of Internal Medicine reviewed the impact of surrogate decision-making for loved ones, words like “intense,” “painful,” “traumatic” and “overwhelming” were used to describe the experience. Emotions tend to be less negative when the patient’s end-of-life preferences are discussed beforehand.

Dealing with my father’s passing was overwhelming, but my mother’s journey was more organized because my sister and I had learned from our experience with our father. Although her passing was made easier because we were more organized, our emotions were the same as with my father’s death.

As a result of both experiences, I joined the Delaware End of Life Coalition. In fact, I became a board member to share my perspective as a caregiver in the last days. It’s greatly satisfying to be part of an organization that is concerned with preparing individuals for making these kinds of difficult decisions.

There are times when “you don’t know what you don’t know.” We need more community organizations that will assist in helping to make decisions on such end-of-life choices such as hospitals, doctors, hospice organizations and alternative facilities to ensure that loved ones have the best quality of life in the end, as determined by your family.

Someone has to be an advocate in such situations. With proper forethought and preparation, you can be that person even as you balance the work responsibilities in your life.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.

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