BY LASHANTE KEYS, Empath Health Community Outreach Specialist
PINELLAS COUNTY — It’s a new year – a time to resolve to improve your health and wellness. One important plan you can make is to do a living will.
Your living will states the care you do or do not want if a major health crisis happens and you can’t speak for yourself. It involves talking with your family about your choices, naming a health surrogate and sharing your plan with your health surrogate, family and doctors. This can take away the guessing and burden for your loved ones as well as ensure your wishes are respected.
A family affair
Lolita Dash-Pitts is a lifelong St. Petersburg resident and Florida’s first certified health worker who serves as executive director of Front Porch Community Development Association, Inc. and in other community roles. As an Empath Health Care Council member, she was inspired to take action after hearing a living will presentation by Empath Health Community and Professional Relations Director Karen Davis-Pritchett.
“I was in awe. I thought, ‘I’m going to do something.’ I made a commitment that night,” Dash-Pitts said.
She rallied her family, medical professionals and other community members together at her home for a spaghetti dinner, her husband’s famous pound cake and a conversation about living wills guided by Davis-Pritchett. About 18 people came and participated.
“Many people are reserved or say death’s taboo; it’s jinxed and we don’t want to talk about that. I thought if I asked everyone to come over, socialize and discuss living wills, they’d open up because we’d be amongst family. I was amazed at the response. My parents were on board first. My mother-in-law was on board with her family. It was like the full support system,” she explained.
The group’s discussion generated important thought and action.
“Karen came in as one of the family and made them feel that way. They opened up and asked questions,” she added.
Davis-Pritchett brought living wills and a few people completed theirs on the spot while some took them home. A lot in the group said they’d never thought about doing a living will but felt happy they did it at her home because they felt comfortable.
“A few people told me they went out and talked about it in their medical facilities,” Dash-Pitts. “One individual had two sisters in Georgia and shared the information and they asked how they could get one. It’s all about sharing.”
Crucial conversations and decisions
It took courage for Dash-Pitts to discuss planning with her family.
“You just can’t dive in, especially with our culture. My husband is my soul mate and best friend and we both have elderly parents. It took a long time for us to start casually talking about it.
Dash-Pitts said she has seen too many families divided and in turmoil when it comes time to make those critical decisions. To spare their family the heartache, she and her husband made living wills and discussed it with their family.
“We have to live for today, reflect on the past and prepare for the future,” she said. “God doesn’t want us to be in a place of suffering, so my faith is to do things decent and in order. I want my family to say: ‘We know we did what she wanted and I want to do the same for my family.’”