NOVEMBER 24, 2014 VOLUME 21 NUMBER 43
You’ve signed your health care power of attorney and your living will (maybe they were in the same document). You’ve given a copy to your doctor and of course your lawyer kept a copy. Did you think you were done? Because you’re not.
Now it’s time to take care of the most important part of this process. Signing advance health care directives is important (you have gotten that part done, right? What??!! You haven’t? Get to it!). But perhaps more important than the documents is The Conversation.
You need to discuss your end-of-life health care wishes with family members. The person you named as your health care agent should participate. But also include the family members not chosen to make the decision. You do not want anyone arguing that “mom can’t possibly have meant to sign that” or “someone talked dad into signing that power of attorney when he didn’t really know what it meant.”
Do you want your wishes carried out? The surest way to accomplish that is to actually tell everyone in your family what those wishes are. Tell them where the documents are, and share copies. Answer their questions. Make sure they know that you know what you’ve signed, and what you want.
That’s the premise behind The Conversation Project, a non-profit organization founded by columnist Ellen Goodman. According to the Project, 60% of poll respondents say that it’s important to make sure they don’t burden their families with tough decisions at the end of life. Still, 56% say they have not talked with their families about their wishes. In our experience, we think that latter figure is inflated; people tell us they have talked with family members, but on closer questioning they usually have not.
When do you have The Conversation? We’re promoting (only half tongue-in-cheek) Thanksgiving Day as the perfect opportunity. The whole family has gathered together, the turkey is taking longer to cook than was planned — it all works to create the perfect opportunity. OK — we know you’re not likely to bring it up this Thanksgiving, but what about the rest of the family weekend?
Need help getting started? The Conversation Project has a conversation “starter kit” to do just that. It gives you some ideas about what to discuss and how to bring it up. Get copies of your advance directives together for The Conversation and just get going.
We hear you say: “my family knows what I want.” No, actually, they don’t. And some may “know” you want something different from what other family members know. How would they know if you don’t tell them? Mind reading? Osmosis? Please don’t assume they do just because they know you.
So this Thanksgiving, try The Conversation (not the Francis Ford Coppola movie starring Gene Hackman, though we also like that one). Not ready to do it that soon? OK, but schedule it, and mention it to your family, and get ready for it. Don’t just shelve The Conversation, thinking you’ll get back to it later.
In the meantime, please, have a healthy, productive and happy Thanksgiving holiday.