Today, I'm healthy, so living is a habit I'd like very much to continue.

Today, I'm healthy, so living is a habit I'd like very much to continue.

I exercise and eat well to stay healthy, but so did my mom, who had a serious stroke when she was four years older than I am now. Her life would have ended then, had my dad not gotten her treatment immediately.

As she awoke from the health event she most feared, she knew what lay ahead. Both her parents had strokes. The lively, engaging person she was would fade and likely be gone before her body died. Her physical strength and prized mental acuity had already begun their retreat.

For 10 long years, my father cared for Mom at home. At age 80, he confessed he couldn't lift, transport, clothe and toilet her any longer. She entered a nursing home, the environment we knew she most dreaded. It was excruciating for Mom, Dad and their kids to leave her at the end of visits amid her pleas to be taken home. Those stopped in time.

When a cold settled into her lungs as congestive heart failure, she was hospitalized. The faulty heart valve that caused the stroke would need to be replaced if she was to survive. She was in no condition to decide about surgery. Of course, doctors turned to my father. A man of duty and faith, he wrestled with the toughest decision of his life: should he let his beloved spouse die "naturally" or authorize open-heart surgery in hopes of prolonging her life? He chose surgery. Mom survived and lived another nine years under nursing care with daily visits from at least one family member.

Dad died 15 months before Mom, having declined treatment when he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Not a day went by that Dad did not revisit his decision to have Mom undergo heart surgery. He agonized over the deteriorating quality of her life, the burdens that our family carried to stay in touch with Mom and his loss of her though her body endured.

We tried to console him, "You did what you thought was right, Dad. Please don't torture yourself." But, he couldn't let it go. He simply did not know what she would have wanted him to do. He, like his children, had heard his wife's laments about strokes, nursing homes and being gone but for a body, but Mom and Dad had never discussed the matter in depth and it felt like giving up on her to let her die, even "naturally." His Catholic faith offered no clarity and, without Mom's guidance when she was lucid, he could not find peace.

I don't want my husband to face such a decision without written guidance from me when I can't speak for myself. Together, we've completed our Oregon Advance Directive booklets, discussing specific health scenarios amid tears and questions. We've initialed our choices of care and also inserted our thoughts about such nuanced end-of-life worries as pain, ability to communicate and recognizing loved ones. No one can predict the exact circumstances we will face, so capturing our wishes in a form accessible to medical practitioners as well as loved ones reassures us tremendously. Thanks to the conversations prompted by the booklet, we feel we know what the other would want, and its written record can be consulted for confirmation and updated to reflect our health changes.

Losing a loved one is difficult in any circumstance. Advance directives convey our values across time and changed realities. Even when we can't speak, they will deliver our love and support to each other — and our wishes for peace.

Joanne Kliejunas is a certified facilitator of Advance Care Planning conversations, working with clients and, when possible, their health care representatives and families, and a volunteer facilitator for Choosing Options, Honoring Options, or COHO. She and her husband live in Ashland.