As Bill and I contemplate what our ideal end of life situations would be, we realize that whatever we do is not just for us, but most importantly for our children and loved ones. I find myself reflecting on how life invariably moves quickly through stages of child, youth, adult, and elder…finding that the journey has gone way too fast. Remember the Seeger song with the line, “Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then?” Seems that is coming to mind more and more often these days.
And it also seems like just yesterday when my three siblings and I sat in the Emergency Room with our unconscious mother as we contemplated whether to allow the surgeons to operate on her (it’s been over 19 years). They told us that the outcomes could be one where she wouldn’t recover or would be attached to machines to artificially sustain her life. While we all knew that she did not want to be kept alive if there wasn’t a chance to continue a functioning, meaningful life, her wishes were vague enough that we found ourselves in a grey zone where clear, precise steps were not available. We were on our own to weigh the what ifs and the consequences. And all the while we talked – over five hours – we never wavered from our love and support for each other as we debated, argued, shared our doubts, and cried. The ending is one left unsaid for the moment; my point in raising this story is to make sure that you – as a mother, father, child, or close relative or friend – have that conversation to help prepare for that moment when a loved one needs you to speak for them.
So, these suggestions are for aging parents: Prepare your children and loved ones. It’s often said that an Advanced Directive is your last gift to them; I know this to be true. Here are some thoughts as you get ready to bring up the topic.
- Make the time – it can take several conversations;
- Start the conversation with agreement – find commonly held beliefs and values that your children can agree on;
- Expect diverse thoughts – your children may have different philosophies, different needs. Unanimity and agreement take time to develop through conversation;
- Use the sometimes-lost art of listening and confirm that each person’s thoughts are important and valid. At the same time, remember, ultimately, they are your wishes, not someone else’s
- Sibling dynamics will be magnified. If there is any discord, it’s not unlikely that this topic could create tension. Prepare to make it clear that any differences should be put aside to meet your wishes;
Then from those conversations, put your wishes in writing. Clarity and conviction come from words written down.
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of suggestions; just a few to help those who struggle with getting started. Believe me, in the long run it’s worth it.