A few years ago I sent my father an email asking him to think about what he wanted my brother and I to do for him, with him, on his behalf before and after he died. It wasn’t as harsh as it sounds – we had been having the conversation in small chunks after he and my mother divorced, but this time, I asked him for an answer. Something to go by. Now I have a pretty clear picture of what he wants regarding end of life care, emergency medical services, life saving care, and what he wants to happen after his body gives out. This difficult conversation wasn’t for his benefit, it was for mine.
Yesterday I heard on Morning Edition, NPR, that a recent study showed less than 10% of elderly patients were having end of life conversations with their physicians. That one of the possible deterrents was payment – until recently, Medicare wouldn’t pay for that conversation between patient and doctor. I also heard, and for the first time learned that some faith organizations oppose these conversations.
Admittedly, I am a person of faith and cannot see how such a conversation is anything but healthy and helpful. If these difficult conversations are not had between families, doctors and patients, ministers and faithful, than many of us are left to make these monumental decisions alone, during an emergency, without guidance or help.
As an attorney, I certainly think these conversations should happen years before someone is ill so proper documents can be drawn up.
As a caregiver, I think these conversations should happen to spare family members additional stress and anxiety during a time of sorrow or emergency.
As a parent, I want to do what I can to take this burden of action and decision away from my child.. And so I have concluded, we should have these end of life conversations often – with anyone who matters. And during these conversations, the following should be discussed:
- Do you have a medical power of attorney – a document that gives someone else the right to make decisions when you can’t?
- Do you have a financial power of attorney?
- Do you have a living will or advanced directive where you spell out what medical care you want and don’t want?
- Did you leave a map regarding your finances, insurance plans, assets, etc?
- Do you want to be buried or cremated?
- Do you want a religious service to celebrate your life? If so – where?
- Do you want to designate where your possessions and things go and draft a will – or do you prefer that state laws apply?
- If needed, will you agree to nursing home care? If so – which one? For what?
I get it – these are not fun conversations. Asking a parent to plan for their body’s ultimate end is difficult. But it is much better than having to do it yourself when they are gone.