By Rosanne DiStefano
---- — Q: The last few weeks of my husband’s life had an extreme impact on me. It was a daily struggle to respect his wishes regarding end of life care. This has made me realize how important it is to talk with my family members about my own choices when death is imminent. I am worried they are going to strongly oppose my decisions. How do I approach them?
A: Death is rarely a topic any of us actually look forward to discussing with the people who will ultimately be responsible for carrying out our end of life wishes. You have already experienced the loss of a loved one and have first hand knowledge of the emotional toll it can have on the person designated as the health care agent (proxy). No matter how unpleasant the prospect of having this discussion it needs to be initiated sooner rather than later. What you should want to avoid both for your sake and those of family members is to have this issue introduced for the first time over your hospital bed.
A survey conducted in California stated 82 percent of people realized it was important to put their wishes in writing yet only 23 percent had actually done so. Perhaps it is only human nature to avoid what is uncomfortable. You have taken the first step in admitting this is something you can no longer procrastinate about doing. The Conversation Project began in 2010 with the primary purpose of encouraging people to make sure their wishes are known when death is near. A group of medical professionals, clergy and members of the media who shared a common goal of “changing our culture” have developed a tool to assist individuals in defining their wishes and communicating this with family and physicians. Your Conversation Starter Kit is designed to help a person organize their thoughts and wishes. The kit asks questions that an individual might not have previously considered and guides them through the entire process. The kit may be downloaded at www.theconversationproject.org .
The holidays are a time when families are often gathered together, this is not to say the subject should be introduced at the dinner table. You are the only one who can determine if this is appropriate in your situation. If not during the next few weeks decide when you can pull everyone together. One suggestion in breaking the ice is to say “I need to think about the future...will you help me?” One conversation may not accomplish your goals, this may have to take place over a period of time. Do not underestimate how difficult this may be for your family to hear but that isn’t a reason to avoid the topic.
Do you have a question? Direct correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. 360 Merrimack Street B#5, Lawrence, MA 01843. Rosanne DiStefano is the Executive Director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. For additional information or to schedule an appointment call 1-800-892-0890.