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Supporter Spotlight: Cecilia Vasquez-Vigil

Texas advocate and former hospice volunteer Cecilia Vasquez-Vigil penned a powerful op-ed about the importance of end-of-life planning, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On July 30, the first anniversary of my mom’s death, I woke up to the news that COVID-19 — which we thought was under control — is more deadly than ever. Hispanics are once again dying of the horrible virus that killed my mom and nearly took my life in 2020. This healthcare crisis is unbelievable and so hard to process. 

Every year, from September 15 through October 15, Hispanics, who now represent nearly one in five U.S. residents (60 million people), celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month by honoring and thanking Hispanic/Latino Americans for their contributions to our community. However, in the midst of this global pandemic, National Hispanic Heritage Month 2021 has a whole new meaning.

As Hispanics, we must elevate our voices and support those among us who need better access to all end-of-life care options, including pain management, hospice, and comfort and palliative care. We must take responsibility for our own end-of-life care decisions so we do not leave these difficult, emotional choices in the hands of doctors and loved ones who don’t know our wishes — before we get a serious illness like COVID-19, cancer or dementia. We must address questions like: Do you want to be connected to a ventilator or not? Do you want to be resuscitated if you suffer a cardiac arrest?

One thing I wished Mom would have done, before she was gravely ill and hospitalized with COVID, was to fill out and share her advance care directive with our family and healthcare providers. This document spells out what care you do and don’t want, and designates a proxy to make medical decisions for you in case you cannot speak for yourself. Every person — not just those facing a life-threatening disease — should complete this important task.

Since Mom’s death and my near-fatal experience with COVID, I have made it my mission to raise awareness about preparing for the inevitable. Otherwise, I could be lying unconscious in a hospital bed, and someone else would have to guess to make these critical decisions about how much suffering I am willing to endure before I die. 

Throughout this process, I connected with the end-of-life care advocacy group Compassion & Choices. This nonprofit organization has a free online COVID-19 toolkit in English and Spanish. On their website, I also ran across My End-of-Life Decisions: An Advance Planning Guide and Toolkit in English and Spanish. This simple resource has the documents necessary to help anyone complete an advance directive. 

As a former hospice volunteer, I am well aware that end-of-life care is not the conversation topic of choice for Hispanics. Our community and the African American community also share increased obstacles accessing and utilizing the full range of healthcare options at the end of life, such as hospice, palliative care and in some states, the option for a terminally ill person to take medication to die peacefully.

A year after my mom’s death, as I lay in bed awake at 3 a.m. I still struggle to live with the memories of watching my mom take her last breath alone over FaceTime. Only God knows if I will ever overcome it. 

Cecilia Vasquez-Vigil is an educator from Brownsville, Texas and a former hospice volunteer who has lived in Katy, Texas for more than 20 years.