I hope you and your loved ones are able to reconnect in person this Memorial Day weekend. More opportunities to spend time with our elders abound with Father’s Day and July the 4th. Enjoy these special moments together, but also put this time to good use by having “the talk” about your loved one’s health care wishes.
Recently the University of Michigan published results of a poll that found COVID-19 had not prompted a significant increase in family discussions about what to do if one is struck with a severe illness or facing end-of-life care. If a deadly pandemic doesn’t prompt such discussions, then what can?
I understand how difficult these conversations can be. In my book, The Reluctant Caregiver, I discuss the challenges I had in initiating these discussions with my own parents. But I also talk about how my parents’ reluctance to make end-of-life care choices came with significant consequences for our family when they became ill. That is why I champion so passionately for everyone to have these talks and make these important health care decisions so your loved one’s wishes (and your own wishes) can be honored.
If you need assistance getting started, refer to the helpful resources section at the end of the University of Michigan Health Lab article. I also recommend Five Wishes. For those who have successfully had “the talk” with their loved ones, I’d love to hear your approach.
Over a half-million deaths later, Americans may finally be ready to have more frank discussions about death. It is long overdue, and it pains me that it took a deadly pandemic to raise awareness, but perhaps it can be an important legacy of those who we’ve lost over the last year.
I’ve long championed the need to have “the talk” with elder loved ones, and how my parents’ refusal to discuss their end-of-life wishes created unintended but very real consequences. You can read more about my challenges in my collection of personal essays, The Reluctant Caregiver.
The pandemic showed us what many of us don’t want for our deaths: to be alone with no loved ones present, to be hooked up to machines, to die in a hospital instead of at home, to not be given a proper funeral or farewell ceremony. Hopefully we will take time to reflect upon these tragic, lonely deaths and take action now to better articulate what we would like the final phase of our life to look like.
Some may want to consider a death doula. Practically speaking, death doulas are helpers in all aspects of end-of-life care, from the bodily aspects of the dying process to spiritual concerns. They can assist with logistical issues, such as whether a client would prefer to die at home or in a hospice facility, and help coordinate burial and funeral plans. Doulas can serve as a comforting presence for both the dying and their grieving family. While it may seem awkward to bring in a stranger to what is considered a private family affair, having a compassionate, but clear-eyed presence can be a great benefit in an emotionally-charged setting. To learn more about this option, the International End of Life Doula Association offers a Doula Directory.
If you have not done so already, I hope you will take this time to think about how you’d like your end-of-life care to look and document those wishes. Encourage your loved ones to do the same. The coronavirus pandemic denied many the opportunity for a “good” death but by being more open in discussing a previously taboo subject, we can hopefully move towards a better end-of-life experience for all.
It will be a different kind of Thanksgiving celebration this year for many families. Smaller gatherings, not getting to hug elder loved ones, some spending the holiday in isolation.
I hope by this time next year, we will largely have put the coronavirus epidemic behind us. Having spent almost the entire year in its grips, we must be resilient for the next few months as vaccines become available. I know many are understandably exhausted, but there does appear to be a light at the end of this tunnel.
There are many things to be grateful for this year.
I am grateful to the healthcare workers, from the ICU nurses to nursing home staff to home health aides, who put their lives on the line each and every day to take care of the rest of us. That is an awe-inspiring sacrifice. (To the thousands who lost their lives to COVID-19 while caring for others, I express my gratitude to their grieving families.)
I am grateful to all of the frontline workers, from grocery store clerks to transit employees to those in food production and utilities. They kept the rest of us who were isolating at home up and running, so we could continue doing our jobs and taking care of our families.
Of course I want to give thanks to the family caregivers. The stress and anguish they have gone through this year is devastating. I’ve read so many heartbreaking accounts of families not being able to visit loved ones in nursing homes because of lockdowns. Watching their loved ones physically and mentally decline via Zoom or standing outside, separated by a glass door or window is something no one should ever experience. Many families couldn’t even be with their loved ones as they died. For those caring for vulnerable family members at home, every sniffle put one on high alert. Trying to keep loved ones at home healthy, comfortable and entertained while reducing their risk of infection is a monumental task. Many caregiver resources have been limited or shut down due to the pandemic, leaving families to fend for themselves.
This Thanksgiving, I hope you are able to find some joy and comfort, even if your celebration has to be altered due to the pandemic. As a token of gratitude, I am participating in a book giveaway. Both The Reluctant Caregiver and CBD for Caregivers are available for free.
This is not going to be a partisan political post. I truly believe senior care and caregiving is a bipartisan issue and will take the cooperation of members of all parties in order to pass much-needed legislation.
But the pandemic that has changed so much in 2020 is also changing the way we vote. How you vote and where you vote depends upon your local jurisdiction and personal preference; my only advice is to plan now if you haven’t voted already.
There are arguments to be made for and against the various forms of voting available this year. Here in Georgia, I took advantage of absentee voting and have already mailed in my completed ballot. Thanks to technology, I was able to monitor its progress and received electronic notification when it had been received and approved for processing.
For those who prefer to vote in person, check out your options for early voting. Many states are offering expanded voting locations and it may be a good way to avoid potentially long lines on election day. If you decide to go the traditional route and vote on Nov. 3, be prepared to wait in long lines. Hopefully it won’t be as bad as recent elections, due to the massive amount of people who are voting early this year.
And caregivers should keep COVID-19 in mind when making a voting plan, for yourself and your loved ones. Weigh the risks and comfort level when making your voting plan. Check with assisted living centers to see if they have a plan to help residents vote. For those needing a ride to vote, check out promotions from Uber and Lyft. Make sure to mask up if voting in person, and use hand sanitizer after touching the machine. The one caveat I would point out about waiting until election day to vote is with coronavirus cases on the rise in many areas of the U.S., do you want to run the risk of being sick and missing out on the chance to vote? Just something to consider.
After the election, the real work begins on working with those elected to create sensible, practical caregiving policies that offer families the support they deserve.