4 Steps to Talking About End of Life Matters

We often talk about the documents that can help protect your family, the documents that can ensure your wishes are carried out if you are unable to make decisions for yourself. But today I would like to discuss the step that comes before the forms – the discussion. . .  The Talk.

Every answer and line filled out in those important legal forms is underpinned by your values. What is important to you will decide your decisions for end of life care. So how do we figure out what our and our loved ones’ values really are, and how they relate to those end of life questions?

I recently ran across an organization called The Conversation Project. Started by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ellen Goodman, this project seeks to give people the tools to have that most important conversation.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts also wants to encourage us to have this conversation. Legislation passed this year requires health care providers to discuss end-of-life questions with dying patients. The discussions would include their care options, risks and benefits, and how to manage their pain.

About 70% people say they would like to pass at home; however, about 70% of people are dying in institutions. Our loved ones deserve to die as close to how they would choose as they can. Those helping make decisions deserve the opportunity to do so with as much information as they can, and without the depression and guilt that can come from acting with uncertainty.

So why are we not having these conversations? The first reason may be the simplest, inertia. We are simply not getting around to having these conversations. The second may be our discomfort with the subject. So how do we think about how we want to live at the end of our lives?

The Conversation Project suggests you start with the question “when it comes to the end of life, I want mine to be _______”. Simply knowing this could help us make decisions when the time comes.

Step 1: Get Ready

Start by just thinking about it, think about writing a letter to yourself or your loved one and thinking about what you will need to feel comfortable having the conversation.

Step 2: Get Set

For this step they recommend you start with asking what matters to you most, and then what matters to you most at the end of life.

Step 3: GO

Who do you want to talk to, when is the best time to do it, and where do you want to do it? You can also make note of some of the most important things you want to share, to make sure they are included.

Step 4: Keep Going

Now you should make sure you keep people updated, and memorialize your wishes in documents that can ensure your wishes will be fulfilled (link to article on the forms).

Ellen Goodman may have said it best: “But I think [death] can have the quality of completion about it, that if you have finished your life in the way that you’ve led it, and you have left the people who you love feeling OK about it — in pain and loss but OK about it — that can be quite a remarkable thing”.

If you would like help starting this conversation, or memorializing your wishes, contact us here at Vickstrom Law, where attorney Kristina Vickstrom, an attorney specializing in long-term care planning  and elder  law can help make sure your wishes are carried out while ensuring your family is not burdened. Call her today at 508-757-3800.

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