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.
UsAgainstAlzheimer’s recently sent out an email about planning for your parents’ future, if/when they become incapacitated in body or mind and are unable to care for themselves anymore. The message stressed how important it is to have “the conversation” where you discuss these difficult topics with your family and develop a plan just in case it is ever needed. Of course, I think this is the smart and right thing to do and would encourage all families to do this.
But from my personal experience, easier said than done. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, my dad had a fear of death so he never wanted to broach the subjects of becoming ill and dying. My mom, ever the chipper one, would respond to my encouragement to fill out the will paperwork by saying, “Well, you already act like we have one foot in the grave. We’re not dead yet!”
I’m hoping that with the baby boomers, such discussions won’t be viewed in such a taboo fashion. And as long as Generation X and younger can fill out a form online, they’ll probably be willing to do it. While the younger generations certainly have earned some fair criticism about their navel-gazing tendencies, in this case, it is a good thing to sit down and spell out exactly how you want these aspects of your life to be. The more introspective, the better!
For those of us who have family members with dementia who did not plan ahead, you often feel like you are stumbling through the dark, hoping you are doing the right thing, but the uncertainty can haunt you in the middle of the night. My dad was afraid of dying, but if he could have understood what his sad reality was going to be with Alzheimer’s, would he have been more inclined to be a DNR? I’m not sure, but I am plagued by what the doctor on duty at the nursing home said the day Dad died. The DNR instructions from the hospital did not make it to the new facility, and the doctor said he thinks the EMS worker broke Dad’s ribs when performing CPR on him. That should not have happened. We as a family should have triple-checked about the DNR order. That’s why it is so vital to discuss these things before an emergency arises, because no one is in a proper frame of mind at that point.
What tactics have worked in your family to discuss these sensitive end-of-life topics?
Today, Mom filled out the power of attorney forms. I’m now in charge of the important decisions concerning her life. If there is a bright side, it’s that Mom knows it’s necessary and trusts me completely. I know for many families, it can be a real struggle. Who wants to admit that they can’t manage their own lives anymore?
Mom did ask if the power of attorney could be reversed if a miracle happened and she becomes like she was before. She was assured that she could revoke it at any time. I joked with her, “Sure, if you really want to start dealing with all of those bills again.”
I’m sure Mom would like nothing more than to return to her own boring, routine life. (I know I would love to return to mine.)
Still, at least we are taking the proper steps now, unlike we did with Dad. No will, no power of attorney with Dad. There’s so much red tape, and so many hoops that you have to jump through when you don’t fill out simple paperwork before you get sick. His bank accounts are still sitting there in limbo, and we certainly could use those funds now, as Mom is entering her last week of rehab that’s covered by Medicare.
The future … that remains a question mark.