Late last year I decided to tackle a topic I had been putting off for quite some time – having the dreaded end-of-life conversation with my family. No, I am not ill (thankfully), nor are my loved ones currently going through a difficult situation. However, I think it’s important to have these discussions while my family and I are in good health, without the added pressure of chronic disease or terminal illness.
I decided to start the conversation with myself and then talk with my husband, adult children, sister, mother and so on. I wanted to make some decisions about what was important to me so that others wouldn’t one day find themselves trying to figure that out for me. I love my family, but do they know what matters most to me?
I live in a house where I am the only female, so history has taught me to be at least a little skeptical that my husband and sons would be in tune with my personal wishes. I’m thinking they could use a little help in that department and would be grateful to receive it – God forbid they would need to act on it anytime soon.
So why does all of this really matter? Recently I’ve come to an alarming realization. Near the end of life there seems to be a disconnect between the care desired and care received. Most people think they want every life-saving treatment until they begin to examine all the variables. Unless we really understand what matters to a person, we may find ourselves making decisions for our loved ones that can lead to burdensome or nonbeneficial therapies that can increase, rather than relieve, suffering.
Why does talking matter? Consider the facts:
- 90 percent of people say that talking to loved ones about end-of-life care is important, however, only 27 percent have actually done so. That’s less than one in three.
- 60 percent of people say that making sure their families aren’t burdened by these decisions is extremely important, however 56 percent have not communicated their end-of-life wishes to their loved ones.
- 80 percent of people say that if seriously ill, they would want to talk to their doctors about wishes for medical care, however only 7 percent report having had these conversations.
- Effective Jan. 1, 2016, Medicare now pays physicians for advance care planning conversations.
I admit at first my family thought all of this was a bit over the top. My son told me he didn’t understand why I was so focused on talking about death. I told him it was really more a discussion about life. I didn’t want to live my life all these years with such deliberation and purpose and then leave the very end to chance. By no means have I made this a comfortable discussion in my house, but it has definitely brought us closer together. That’s a big win for me.
Where to go to get started: