(ARA) – Ashley, a vibrant, active 37-year-old lawyer, mother of three young children and part-time Pilates instructor has a to-do list longer than her combined client case load. When she learned that her next-door neighbor, a mother of four children who pal around with her kids, had terminal cancer, her mind went in many directions.
How could she help? What should she say? How will the children respond? How was her friend handling this crisis? But one thought intruded regularly into her daily routine – if this happened to her, how would she and her family handle the impending end to her life? She was clueless on how to approach the subject, but day by day, as she realized the fragility of life, she became more convinced that a conversation was critical regarding her wishes and her husband’s.
This is both an ordinary and an unusual scenario. Ordinary because few people younger than 40 have thoughts of planning for dying. Unusual because Ashley didn’t dismiss her concerns. Rather, she wanted to tackle the issue and get to-do items done.
Hospice of the Western Reserve recognizes the courage it takes to approach one’s end of life. As one of the country’s best-known hospice and palliative care providers, the agency offers this kind of advice for all ages in a booklet called “Courage in Conversation: A Personal Guide.”
The guide tackles not only the care you want in the event that you are no longer able to speak or think for yourself, but also how to begin the discussion – as early in your adulthood as possible. By talking about what you want, you are exhibiting the courage to confront one of life’s most difficult moments – at a time when you are thinking clearly. There are a few points to consider as you begin this process:
1. Have a plan as to how you will share your wishes. Will you have things written down? With whom will you be talking?
2. Create an environment that is conducive to listening. It is usually helpful to sit down with your loved ones and try to be at the same eye level.
3. Share the information in small segments. Avoid apologizing for the information you are sharing. These are your wishes for one of life’s most important moments.
4. Allow time for your loved ones to process information and respond. This is one of the most important things you can do. They may have questions or feelings to share with you, but may need time to process your desires.
Next steps may include researching resources to help support your loved ones, such as funeral and financial arrangements, creation of advance care documents – your living will and your powers of attorney – or simply stating where your advance care planning documents will be stored. Long-term planning will mean periodic review of your documents to ensure that friends, family members and even physicians are updated as necessary and that wishes have remained constant as new technologies are created and laws change.
This end-of-life planning process doesn’t happen overnight. It takes thought, emotional readiness and time to sort out the options and ready oneself for this serious undertaking. Sharing your choices through conversation is an important first step. In the long run, the conversations will be the greatest gift to those you love, giving them the confidence to act knowingly on your behalf and the comfort of knowing that your wishes will be honored