Having necessary conversations about End-of-Life issues shouldn’t be difficult.
As we age, we think about how we might like our last days to be. Have you given this any thought? How about your aging parent or loved one? Have you talked together with them about their wishes for end-of-life care or the legacy of memories and experiences they will leave after they are gone?
According to a 2017 Home Instead survey of seniors and middle-aged adult children whose parents were still living, nearly 90% of seniors knew how they wanted their final days to look and feel, but less than 70% of adult children were comfortable talking about their parents’ end of life planning. Also, nearly half of the adult children surveyed were more fearful of when their parents could no longer care for themselves than they were concerned about a parent’s death.
My mother was particular about her final wishes. She put everything in a large 3-ring binder that I called her “Death Book.” In her last decade, she would pull the book out once or twice a year and review its contents with me. Upon her death, everything I needed to know was in that book. My brother, on the other hand, was unwilling to go through the book with her. Each time she tried to share it with him, he would respond by telling her he didn’t want to look at that right now. It worried her that he wouldn’t let her talk about those things that were so important to her.
Conversations about final days don’t have to be difficult. Especially for people of faith, death should not be frightening, because it is a homecoming into the presence of God. But for surviving family members who are unclear or uncomfortable about a loved one’s last wishes, this time can be stressful and overwhelming. Some tools can help family caregivers overcome the discomfort and find ways to begin and even end these difficult conversations, but the trick is to take the time.
Begun in 2010, The Conversation Project helps families start and finish conversations to define last wishes. The goal is to have every person’s preferences for end-of-life care expressed and respected. Here’s a link to the Conversation Starter kit. The kit is a digital document you can save to your computer or tablet and type directly into the record.
Chris and I hope you will join our conversation this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about having difficult conversations that can lead to observing and respecting last wishes.