This week’s blog is a bit of a change of pace. Don’t worry, I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled programming next week. However, National Healthcare Decision Day is this coming Monday–April 16th. I think that this project is incredibly important, so today’s blog is in support of the goal of beginning or improving conversations about end of life.
I know, I know–this topic may cause you to want to dodge this post. The reaction that many people have to thinking or talking about death is to not think or talk about it. But today, I want to ask you to hang in here with me. I want you to think about aging, or getting sick, even to think about dying. I want you to think about those things that make your life worth living. I want to you to think about the impact that your openness (or lack thereof) in talking about illness and dying might have on the people who love you. Because here’s the deal–this is not an issue that we get to skip. As one writer said (I’m paraphrasing because I can’t find the quote or the attribution), “Despite incredible advances in medical technology, the mortality rate after being born is still 100%.”
We are all going to die. So are all the people that we love. That’s true, and it’s hard to swallow sometimes. But I firmly believe that if we are able to talk about this, instead of shoving these truths into a box in our heads, we can actually build lives that are richer, more connected, and more full of meaning.
I know that this is a sensitive topic. Just the suggestion that physicians be able to be compensated for taking time to really explore end of life options with their patients led to a national panic about “death panels.” A nurse in Arizona was fired after educating a patient about hospice options. No one is sure whose responsibility these conversations are. Should doctors be talking to patients? When? At diagnosis? As part of routine treatment in primary care? In an ER or intensive care unit? Should religious leaders be talking to congregations? Is this the responsibility of hospice professionals? Should parents be talking to children? Or should adult children introduce the topic with their parents?
I think that the right answer is “all of the above.” The more times and places that we are talking about how we would like things to go if we become sick or injured in a critical way, the more likely it is that our wishes can be honored. And if we have nifty tools like advance directives, living wills, and healthcare powers of attorney in place, we’re reducing the burden on our families.
Some of you reading this may say, “But talking about dying is morbid.” Or perhaps, “Acknowledging that I might have a terminal illness means giving up hope.” Here’s my response to that. As I said earlier–dying is inevitable. Death, and all of the challenges and decisions that arise while dying and after death, is something that we will all face, for ourselves and for loved ones. Since that is true, I’m suggesting that perhaps having conversations about aging, and illness, and yes, even about dying is one way to engage with how we want to live. Recognizing that our time is limited reminds us to cherish our relationships, to be careful about how we spend our time.
So my challenge to you this week is this–take a look at the NHDD website. Poke around. Check out their questions. And maybe, on Monday, sit down with someone you love and begin a conversation. As you do so, be open to the possibility that maybe talking about death is the ultimate affirmation of life.
Not sure how to start? Here are a few more resources:
And if you aren’t sure how to get the ball rolling, but you want to give it a try, you can always stop by the End of Life Conversations Tweetchat (#EOLchat) on Thursday evenings at 8:30 pm CST.
Have you had these talks already? If so how did they go? If not, what’s holding you back?
Image Credit: Cemetery Carpet by K.Kendall via Flickr
FTC Disclosure: I do not have any professional or affiliate links with the resources that I shared in this article, I just think that they’re helpful for starting conversations. I am the moderator of the #EOLchat, which is a volunteer position, with no financial benefit. I think that covers it all. 🙂