We’re grateful to Kate Grew, vice president, chief nursing officer at Atrium Health’s Carolinas HealthCare System NorthEast, for sharing her personal story about the importance of documenting one’s wishes for end-of-life care.

Your Health | 3 days ago

A Gift from John: Family Finds Comfort After Tragedy

We’re grateful to Kate Grew, vice president, chief nursing officer at Atrium Health’s Carolinas HealthCare System NorthEast, for sharing her personal story about the importance of documenting one’s wishes for end-of-life care.

The phone rang at 1:45 a.m.

Kate’s healthy, happy, very active 48-year-old brother, John, had collapsed at his home in New York. Emergency medics had performed CPR and he was now unresponsive in the ICU.

As the eldest sibling and the nurse in the family, Kate traveled to New York and met with John’s neurologists. She was asked to call their parents in Florida to tell them the news: John had suffered a massive heart attack, was now on a ventilator, and had significant brain damage. His prognosis was grim.

John was the last one anybody would’ve thought that this could happen to. He was the father of 20-year-old twin girls, engaged to be married again, and full of life. He’d just returned from a relaxing vacation in Costa Rica. Seeing him on life support was surreal.

The sudden tragedy left his family – especially his daughters and parents – completely devastated. And amidst their intense grief, faced with decisions about his medical care, they were forced to ask themselves: What would John have wanted?

According to his family, John didn’t seem like someone who would complete an advance directive, or documents detailing his end-of-life wishes. Still, one of his brothers decided to check a box of files at John’s house.

To everyone’s surprise, the box contained a living will which clearly stated that he would not want life-prolonging measures if there was no hope for a meaningful recovery, and that he planned to donate his organs. Arrangements were made to honor John’s wishes.

"I thought I knew what he would want, but it helped to see it in writing," Kate says. "The weight of the world was off our shoulders. His last gift to us was that we did not have to make those decisions."

Still stunned by their sudden loss, John’s family couldn’t believe that he’d completed documents stating his wishes. That action – and knowing that they had done what John wanted – provided immense relief and comfort during an incredibly difficult time. It also helped prevent strain between John’s parents and daughters, since they didn’t have the added stress of making decisions about his care.

In the ten years since John’s death, his family has continued to feel blessed that he wrote his end-of-life wishes down. The experience inspired Kate and her siblings to complete their own advance directives, and to keep an open dialogue about their wishes with their family.

Kate says that although they’ll never know what prompted John to complete his documents, not a day goes by that she doesn’t thank him for taking the time to do it. "It was truly a gift to us," she says.

Take control of your future with an advance directive. Learn more about advance directives and be sure to stop by one of our National Healthcare Decisions Week events to complete your advance directive for free.