November is Caregiving Month: How to Have Hard Conversations

Having a conversation is key to understanding wishes

Having A Final Wishes Conversation

With Thanksgiving and the rest of the holidays quickly approaching, this means that we will get to see many members of our extended family and share food and quality time with them. This is also a perfect opportunity to sit down with the members of the older generation in your family, and the rest of their support network, and have a conversation that many people in this country avoid—one about final wishes.

It’s not that Americans don’t want to talk about the end of their lives. A recent poll conducted by The Conversation Project found that 9 in 10 Americans are eager to talk to their loved ones about their end-of-life wishes. But a mere 27% have actually taken the step to sit down and actually have that conversation.

We at Jazmine  think that’s a problem. We encourage people to sit down with their parents or elderly loved ones and take the steps necessary to be properly prepared for end of life or life-threatening emergencies.

Below we’ll give you some advice on best practices and show you how Jazmine can be used as a vital tool to prepare you and your loved ones for the future. We strongly encourage you to educate yourself further through both The Conversation Project and Begin the Conversation, as well as explore the other resources at the bottom of this post.

Preparing For The Conversation

Starting the conversation about end of life care can be intimidating, but doing a little prep work can go a long way to help overcome those nerves. Here are some popular recommendations for what you can do ahead of time to help make the conversation with your loved one a little easier.

  • Write yourself a letter or email. It’s a perfect way to get down all of your thoughts in one place, and can help you ensure you talk about all the different questions or concerns you have.
  • Practice having the conversation with a friend. Doing a trial run with someone you trust can help you get past that initial nervousness.

It’s also helpful to make some practical considerations ahead of time.

  • Pick an appropriate time to have the conversation. The holidays or other family get-togethers are perfect for some. Others might prefer a less busy, quieter time to have the talk.
  • Find a comfortable location. At the kitchen counter? On a long walk through the neighborhood? Over a nice dinner at your loved one’s favorite restaurant? You know them best and will know where they’ll be most comfortable.

Starting The Conversation

At this point, you’re probably wondering: where do I begin? Depending on your love one (you know them best) there are a handful of approaches that you can use to get the conversation started. Here are a few ice breakers that experts in end-of-life preparation recommend trying:

  • “Hey Mom, could you help me out with something…”
  • “Dad, I was thinking about what happened to my next door neighbor John, and it made me realize that we haven’t prepared for the worst…”
  • “Grandma, I just answered a few questions about how I want the end of my life to be. I want to show you my answers. I’m wondering, what would yours be?”
  • “Aunt Betty, do you have a half hour to help me with some planning for the future?”
  • Remember, exactly how you start the conversation isn’t the most important thing. What’s important is just getting the conversation started.

Having the Conversation

Once you’ve got the ball rolling, there are a number of topics you’ll want to address during your first conversations. Here are a handful of questions that experts suggest you ask during the first conversation:

  • What matters most to you when you think about the last stage of your life?
  • Do you have particular concerns about your health?
  • What kinds of things do you think you need to get in order or discuss with your loved ones.
  • Who do you want to be involved in your end of life care?
  • Where would you like to receive care? (Home? Nursing Facility? Hospital?)
  • Are there certain kinds of treatment you’d prefer? Treatments you’d rather not have?
  • When would you want us to switch from curative care to comfort care?  From hospital to hospice, or in-home care.

Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. How you approach the subject is up to what you and your loved one are most comfortable with.

Also, don’t forget to write things down. It’s important to make sure you have your loved one’s wishes clearly recorded. This will help you continue planning after your initial talk.

Additional Tips:

Finally, there are some important points that are helpful to keep in mind before talking to a loved one.

  • Remind yourself that this is just the first conversation of many.  You don’t have to decide on everything or implement your entire plan in one afternoon. Talking to your loved one will get easier as time goes on, but beginning the conversation is a critical part of this.
  • Be patient and don’t rush your loved one. Some people need more time than others to talk about end of life issues. It’s a difficult subject and recognizing that will make a huge difference.
  • Listen to your loved one. What they want to talk about is most likely going to show you what is most important to them.
  • Don’t judge your loved one’s wishes. It’s vital that they feel they can openly discuss their opinions. This includes disagreements, and other ideas.
  • Decisions can change. There’s no decision that can’t be revised. This discussion is just a starting point.

What To Do After The Conversation

Now that you’ve opened up the discussion with your loved one, it’s time to organize all the necessary documents involved with end of life care. This organization does not have to happen immediately after, and may take some time to pull together. Accomplish what you’re able to without overwhelming or exhausting your loved one.

There are a handful of legal and medical documents that you’ll need to have prepared for an end of life event. It’s important to have copies of these documents in an easily accessible physical location (like a filing cabinet in your home) and in a secure place online that allows you to share and reference them easily (Jazmine.com!)

IMPORTANT:  Do not keep your will and advance directives in a Safe Deposit Box.  A Safe Deposit Box will get sealed by the bank upon your death and will not be accessible until the court has recognized and appointed an executor.

For more information on what documents you may need, look at our guide on end-of-life planning documents. 

Resources

Much of the information here can be found on The Conversation Project, an organization dedicated to encouraging people to have the end-of-life conversation with their loved ones and helping people prepare for it every step of the way. Their Conversation Starter Kit is a very useful tool for organizing your thoughts for your initial end of life conversation

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