End-of-life discussions may not seem to fit with the commonly cheerful image of the holiday season. After all, who likes to talk about potential death? Yet, too many people die in a manner they would not choose. When we consider that the true reason for this spiritual season is to celebrate our faith, what could be more fitting than incorporating the message that we want the best for our loved ones for their entire life - and that their life will include the death process?
Sadly, a national survey by The Conversation Project this fall found that 9 in 10 Americans want to discuss their loved ones’ and their own end-of-life care, but only 3 in 10 have actually had these conversations. Rather like a child who believes that if he or she can’t see you then you aren’t there, many people feel that if they don’t talk about their end-of -life wishes or those of their loved ones - well, then they won’t have to deal with it. Of course, people know that’s not true, but denial is powerful. This is where a little virtual hand-holding can help.
The Eldercare Locator, a free service of the U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA), has launched its Annual Home for the Holidays campaign to do just that. This campaign encourages families to take time this during the holiday season to discuss critical end-of-life issues with their loved ones. While the site provides a vast array of tools that can help guide families who want to have the end-on-life discussion, the downloadable starter kit alone can serve as an ice breaker.
The complete Conversation Project site guides families through different stages of the end-of-life conversation by offering topics for consideration. Eventually, your conversation with your loved ones should include all legal and medical issues such as such as lists of doctors, health conditions, medical records, appointing a durable power of attorney, trusts, advance directives, wills and how to locate important financial documents. This vital conversation - hopefully one that is ongoing - also needs to include end-of-life personal topics such as naming one person to make final decisions, values and ideals around quality of life and care and the types of medical treatment that may or may not be desired.
There’s nothing magical about using the holidays as a time to launch an end-of-life discussion with your loved ones. In some families, there is simply too much going on at that time. However, the campaign is launched during the holidays because many families get together at this time of year, so it may be a convenient time to at least begin to sow the seeds of a discussion.
I’d encourage most adult children to spend time studying the Conversation Project site. Then, if the holiday season works well for you and your family to begin such a discussion, you’ll be prepared. You don’t have to have everything signed and sealed in one day (unless there’s a health emergency), but just indicating that this is an approachable topic is progress. With the help of the Conversation Project starter kit, you can gently begin the discussion and then pick up the thread later, if necessary, whenever the time is right.
Connect with the Eldercare Locator
The Eldercare Locator is a free national service of the U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA) that is administered by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a). Contact the Eldercare Locator at (800) 677-1116 or www.eldercare.gov when looking for resources for your aging loved one or help as a family caregiver.** **
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Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.