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Talks you need to have...

Published by Chapster on 2002/12/20 (2929 reads)
Talks you need to have...
Recorded at the KEOM studios on December 20, 2002

Q: Last month, we talked a little about Advance Directives, the legal documents that insure that the medical treatment we get in a life threatening emergency honors our wishes. In that conversation you mentioned the importance of talking with your family about your wishes. Is it appropriate for an adult child to have this kind of conversation with a parent?

A: Absolutely. At the right time and place, this is an enormously important discussion to begin, and continue, having. Really, for us, this discussion shouldn't just be about advance directives, you know, the documents. It should be about a whole constellation of issues.

Q: Like what?

A: Well, of course, it should cover the kinds of issues we already spoke of: Things like the kinds of treatment they would want in an emergency and the kinds of treatment they wouldn't want, as well as issues related to the distribution of possessions in the event of death. But, and this seems even more important, it should also be an OPPORTUNITY for them to do life review, for them to speak about regrets, failure, and success. It should be a chance to explore what was and is important, what remains to be done, what remains undone, and what needs closure. It doesn't have to be a morbid discussion: It can be time to talk about the big trip to Alaska they never took. In short, this is a time to re-imagine how they want their life to be as they age. Sadly, these discussions are sometimes very difficult for families.

Q: Why is that?

A: Because there's a lot of raw baggage on the part of all parties. Plus, the rule for many family relationships is: Don't talk, Don't ask, Don't Listen.” In some cases, we've practiced that for so long that we are unable to find the courage to even begin this kind of discussion.

Q: So, how does one begin this ongoing discussion?

A: I think you have to begin by being clear in your own motives. This is a very tender subject. If there has been a difficult history in your relationship, the quality of the relationship has to be addressed before the discussion can be meaningful. A parent has to believe that the child is NOT trying to control them, is not trying to gain a special place in the will, and, above all, is not trying to RUSH THEM ON. There has to be a sense of mutual respect. Another important element is timing. It's not the kind of discussion to have in a business as usual manner. It asks for us to be sensitive and appropriate and to REALLY listen to what is being said.

The discussion itself can begin simply enough: "Mom, you know I love you and lately, I've been concerned about what's important to you these days;" or "Dad, you know I was watching a program on TV the other day, something about a man being put on a respirator after a heart attack, and it got me to wondering, what would you want if something like that happened to you?" Then, proceed from there. Help them to know how easy it is to protect their interests and values. Ask for a family meeting, if this is realistic. But again, the focus is not a ONE TIME DISCUSSION about legal affairs, although that is very important. This discussion should be one in an ongoing list of conversations where we seek to bring meaning to some of life's most precious hours.

Q: How do we add meaning to those hours?

A: One of the great organizations that works with dying children, the MAKE a WISH FOUNDATION, has developed a great idea - finding out what a child's BIG wish is, the thing that they need to have to die without regret. I'd like to see us doing that with our elderly long before that terminal diagnosis. What a lovely gift that would be. I think we'd be very surprised to find out what some of their wishes are!'

'Q: What do you think some of their wishes would be?

A: Every person is different, and each person brings with them a unique list of needs. But, without a doubt, the foremost general need for most people would be for peace in their relationships. So many families these days are fractured, with so many regrets and so much relational pain. I think most people would like to know that they are at peace and that past wrongs are forgiven, inasmuch as possible. Another need is the belief that survivors will be okay, financially, emotionally, and physically, that they will make it past this painful juncture in life, and that they will do so peaceably. I’ll mention one more need, an enormously important one: That we wish to be kept comfortable, have our symptoms well controlled, and be able to participate in life as fully as possible until the very last moment.

I guess the most important thing is that we intentionally face the realities of aging and that we actually do have these conversations. This discussion should be a whole chapter in our lives. The chapter might be called, "The Things I and MY Children Learned about Mom in Her Later Years." Hopefully, through these conversations we can begin mending bridges, building connections, and bringing hope into the lives of our elderly and our families.

Tags: care   living   directive   advance   medical   will   planning   of   Power   health   Attorney   parents  

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