Follow these practical tips to begin important conversations with your elderly loved ones
- Posted on May 11, 2018
Content provided by Home Instead Senior Care.
Collette’s father had a small stroke at age 70 from which he nearly fully recovered. But because he feared another one that could be more debilitating, her dad started the conversation. “He told me that under no circumstances should I allow CPR, intubation, resuscitation or any other ‘heroic measures,’” Collette said.
“Years later he had a heart attack and, while in a coma, the doctor informed me that his only chance of survival depended on his having open heart surgery. When I pressed the doctor to describe what Dad’s lifestyle and quality of life after this surgery would likely be, he told me that IF Dad survived the surgery, he would have many months of difficult recovery in a hospital and would most likely need to move into long-term care. It was easy for me to withhold consent for this surgery because I understood his wishes very well.”
Collette’s father died 12 hours later. “When he took his last breath, I experienced something profoundly beautiful although no words can adequately describe it. It was as if I stood with him inside a portal where boundaries and identities did not exist, only a sublime peace. And still, all these years later, I feel only joy associated with his passing. Together we stood at the threshold of a great mystery, and I have never feared my own death since, and have always been so very happy for him, for passing with such ease.”
Collette’s poignant story, which appears on the Conversation Project website, illustrates how sharing end-of-life wishes can bring clarity and comfort to families during difficult hospice and dying situations.
The Conversation Project Starter Kit walks individuals and their family members through a process of starting and completing important conversations. Sharing these wishes could help bring families together, notes the website, which is dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care.
Following, from Dr. Julie Masters, chair of the Department of Gerontology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, are tips for getting the conversation started (adapted from “Having the Talk of a Lifetime” (2014); Funeral and Memorial Information Council):
“At some point, adult children need to understand they should be the ones making the decisions,” Masters said. “One can’t stay in a child’s role. You have to be the adult in the room and make a decision that is in the best interest and safety of a loved one. That requires a willingness to let go of the old self in favor of the new self. For some people, that’s very difficult. It’s hard to let go. Adult children must mature into a new role – keeper of their parents.”
Remember, discussions should be about how to live to the very end of our lives not just how to die.