Why End-of-Life Conversations Matter


Why End-of-Life Conversations Matter

Have you hit a brick wall trying to communicate with family members about end-of-life wishes. Have you hit a brick wall trying to communicate with family members about end-of-life wishes.

@G-J, who cares for her husband, shared last year about her mother-in-law's death (read Because They Told Me). Her mother-in-law spent her last 10 weeks of life in the hospital, three and half weeks longer than two sons wanted. She hadn't made her wishes known, so her husband did everything and more to keep her alive. Her last weeks were painful and difficult as her husband agonized over letting go because he didn't know when she wanted him to let go.

After she died, the family struggled to make arrangements, simply because they weren't sure of her wishes.

Over the years, G-J and her husband, Steve, tried to talk to her in-laws about their wishes. She writes:

"Steve and I have tried to talk to his parents about this for years. I appealed to my father-in-law from a financial angle (it will be less expensive to make your arrangements in advance). I appealed to him from an emotional angle (Do you want your wife to be making these decisions in her darkest hour?). Steve took a tougher stance and threatened to bury them in the yard with the cats."

When the conversations about end-of-life stay one-sided, what can you do? Some suggestions:

1. Try, take a break and try again. The process of gathering the necessary information about finances, end-of-life decisions and final arrangements can be one that lasts years.

2. Do your best and when you hit a brick wall, respect a parent's decision not to share. You can only do your best. You can express your worry ("I worry I won't do what you'll want") and if that doesn't work, then let it go for the time being. Then, try again at a later date.

3. If you can't get specifics, then get generalities. If you are unsure of a parent's financial situation and your mom insists it's none of your business, then ask where the banking happens, for contact information for financial planners and where important paperwork can be found.

4. Try to make it a family affair. Schedule a meeting for everyone to talk about their wishes. You can use a workbook like Five Wishes, which documents your wishes if you become seriously ill, to spark the discussion. With everyone sharing, the focus isn't just on your parent. And, it's never too soon to know about family members' wishes, regardless of age.

5. Ask about their experiences. How did their parents (your grandparents) manage as they aged? How did their families manage caregiving? What rituals and traditions did your parent participate in when family members died? The past can give you clues about how to manage the future.

6. You can try the "I'm assuming" tract. "Dad, I'm assuming you want to buried with Mom. I'm also assuming you want a wake and funeral. Is this correct?" "Mom, I'm assuming you want to cremated like Aunt Alice. Is this correct?" And, "Dad, I'm assuming you haven't made any plans for funeral and burial. Is this correct?"

How have your approached these conversations when your family members put up roadblocks? Share your experiences in our comments section, below.

Resources for End-of-Life Conversations

  • The Conversation Project: The Conversation Project helps people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care. www.theconversationproject.org/

  • Engage with Grace: The One Slide Project was designed with one simple goal: to help get the conversation about end of life experience started. The idea is simple: Create a tool to help get people talking. One Slide, with just five questions on it. Five questions designed to help get us talking with each other, with our loved ones, about our preferences. www.engagewithgrace.org/

  • Five Wishes: Five Wishes helps you express how you want to be treated if you are seriously ill and unable to speak for yourself. It deals with all of a person’s needs: medical, personal, emotional and spiritual. www.agingwithdignity.org/

  • Prepare: PREPARE is a program that can help you make medical decisions for yourself and others; talk with your doctors; and get the medical care that is right for you. www.prepareforyourcare.org/

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