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The Importance of the End of Life Conversation

By Liz Schoen, LCSW-C

I recently became familiar with The Conversation Project. It was founded by Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Ellen Goodman after her mother died. As she cared for her mother, she realized they had talked about everything but how she wanted to live at the end of her life. Ellen faced a “cascade” of decisions and wished she could hear her mother tell her what she wanted. She founded this organization dedicated to helping people have conversations about this often avoided subject.

Having this conversation between loved ones can ease pressure on caregivers, allowing them to make the choices their loved ones would prefer. Having the conversation may mean the person at the end of life can feel as comfortable and safe as possible.

But, this isn’t an easy talk to have. Research shows that people know they should talk about this but most don’t. I have two adult children. I recently had this talk with my daughter. I haven’t yet had it with my son.

I sat down with my daughter braced with a deck of “Go Wish” cards from the Coda Alliance. Printed on each card in this deck is a short statement about something to consider about how we want to live the last part of our life. The statements include things like “I want my family to be with me.” or “I want to be at home.” or “I don’t want to have unfinished business.” With my daughter next to me, I sorted the cards into groups of most importance, medium importance, least importance. The idea was for the cards to get us talking. Some of the topics were easy. My daughter knew what I thought or would want. But other topics evoked surprising responses from both of us. So we talked. And, as it turns out, it wasn’t that hard once we started. We came out of this discussion feeling more grounded and closer to one another. I feel confident that she will be there for me and able to make decisions knowing what I value and want.

Now I need to have the conversation with my son. Why haven’t I done it already? I tell myself he’s busy. It’s hard to get him to take the time to sit down for a talk. I imagine that he won’t want to do it, that he might not take my concerns seriously, or that he might not even be interested. But I don’t know that, and I have to admit that those thoughts are probably not correct. I think he will be loving, compassionate and interested. But, I still hesitate. I do know that I need to have this conversation with him, and I will find a way to get started.

If you want to have “The Conversation” you can find lots of information and resources at www.theconversationproject.org including a starter kit. You can also check out the online deck of cards at www.gowish.org. And JCS offers family consultations during which an experienced Elder Care Manager will discuss relevant issues and provide individualized solutions and recommendations. With so many options available, there’s no reason not to have conversation with the ones you love.

 

Liz Schoen is a therapist for Jewish Community Services in Howard County.

JCS provides a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. We offer guidance and support when you are seeking solutions for emotional well-being, aging and caregiving, parenting, job seeking, employers and businesses, achieving financial stability, living with special needs, and preventing risky behaviors. To learn more, please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.

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