I realize I run the risk of losing your readership to this blog forever but I’m going to broach this subject anyway. The holidays are an opportune time for families to discuss their health and end-of-life wishes. I know these are difficult topics for most of us to talk about. We seem to dread this conversation even more than the one we were supposed to have with our kids about sex. But, it’s absolutely essential if we want to live on our terms to the very end. Avoiding it won’t keep you from getting sick and dying and it will burden your loved ones with the task of guessing what you might have wanted. Siblings don’t always agree on what is best for mom or dad, and these arguments lead to hurt feelings that can affect relationships for a lifetime. End of life decisions are as varied as the people who make them. They shouldn’t be left to doctors, nurses, insurance companies, or your kids.
If you don’t think most people need a push and some guidance making those end of life decisions, consider these facts:
- 60% of people say they believe that it is “extremely important” to make sure their family is not burdened by tough decisions. Yet, 56% of people have not told anyone about their end-of-life wishes.
- 70% of people say they want to die at home. Yet, 70% die in a hospital or nursing home.
- 80% of people say that if they’re diagnosed with a serious illness, they’d want to discuss end-of-life care with their doctor. Yet, only 7% actually have that conversation.
- 82% of people say it’s important to put their end-of-life wishes in writing, and they’re right. Yet, only 23% have actually done it.
I don’t believe people avoid these decisions and discussions simply because they’re afraid of death. Studies indicate that what people fear most about death is what will happen to their loved ones after they’re gone. That being the case, it makes sense to protect our survivors’ futures and to plan our life and death well.
After you break through that fear and avoidance barrier and are ready to make some decisions, then what? That’s where we feel stuck again because “who ya gonna call?” The doctor? A lawyer? Your kids? No, no, and heck no!
The Conversation Project (http://theconversationproject.org) has a free, step-by-step kit to get you started. They begin by providing the statistics I’ve noted above, and then proceed to guide you gently and painlessly through the process. It’s absolutely free with no strings attached. There are two components you can download and print. The first one we’ll focus on today. It is the Conversation Starter Kit.
It begins by asking you to simply think about how you would want things managed in the event of a serious illness and noting your thoughts. There are questions that will help lead you through the process. For example, do you want to know every detail of your illness and treatment, every step of the way, or do you prefer to just go by whatever your doctor thinks is best? Most people will find themselves somewhere in between. The key thing to remember is that this is about how you feel and what you want. You’ll need to turn a deaf ear to that internal voice that wants you to think about what your spouse or kids might want. There are also questions about how involved you want others to be in your care.
Keep in mind; this isn’t a legal document of any sort. It is simply a few worksheets containing good questions to help you decide how you want things managed in the event of a serious life threatening illness.
Once you’ve taken some time to understand what you want, the final stage is about action. Now this is a critical step that, if ignored, leaves all your preparation meaningless. You’ve got to tell someone about your decisions. You decide about who (yes whom), when, and where you want to have the conversation so that your family knows about your decisions. There are even suggested starter sentences to help you get those difficult first words out, such as, “I’ve been thinking about some things and I’d appreciate your help.”
Once you’ve had the conversation, the kit lists some legal and medical documents you should know about to ensure that your wishes will be honored.
Please go check this out. It might be the best 10 pages you’ve ever printed.
P.S. The second component covers the conversation you should have with your doctor. We’ll cover that here in the near future.