John used his time with his parents at the holidays to check up on their health and well-being. It had been a series of hard conversations with them, but he was confident that he knew their wishes about end-of-life issues. His parents discussed all the legal and financial documents with him, and now John feels he can relax and enjoy his time with his parents. That was until his adult daughter Barbara asked him what his wishes were.
John had talked with his parents, but he hadn't taken the time to have those same conversations with his grown children. He said he really didn't see the need; he was too young and healthy to talk about his own death, and he didn't want to bring everyone down over the holidays. Yet, deep inside, he knew his daughter had a point. He had asked something of his parents that he was not prepared to give his own children: the peace of mind of knowing his wishes should he become unable to make decisions for himself.
Many baby boomers - 64 percent, according to an Associated Press poll - do not have end?of?life legal documents such as a living will or a health care proxy, which guide medical decisions should a patient be unable to communicate with doctors. Making a will and planning the disposition of an estate are also often a last-minute, "I'll do it when I need to" things.
Discussions about advance directives, wills, estate planning and funeral arrangements aren't just for the end of life. They really should be part of family life - a part of how we live our lives fully. Communication and advance planning can reduce feelings of burden, guilt and misunderstanding. They can also lessen the potential for conflict that family members often experience when they are put in the position of making decisions for others.
How do you start to talk to your adult children about the future? Talking about your own eventual death can seem "creepy." If it was hard to discuss end-of-life issues with your parents, imagine how difficult it is for your children to wrap their heads around the thought of your not being around. But it is these conversations that most family members avoid that many wish they had had before it was too late.
It is normal to encounter resistance the first time you mention this topic. Your children may try to make a joke or stop you from talking about it. Don't be discouraged. Be persistent and try again at another time. Bring the topic up occasionally. This will be an ongoing conversation, not a debate, and the more you bring it up, the more comfortable your family will become with the discussion. Your life, financial status and plans can change from year to year, so your personal decisions should change, as well. You may be afraid of starting a fight, but you should be more afraid of a crisis happening before you and your children are ready. Help your adult children understand that while they may not agree with your choices, it's your life and you have the right to make these choices. The best way they can show their love and support is to understand and honor your wishes.
Contact your area agency on aging at 1-866-243-5678 for resources on long-term planning, including information about advance planning and legal assistance. You can also download helpful resources and blank copies of the Ohio living will and durable power of attorney documents at the website of the Ohio Hospice & Palliative Care Organization at www.ohpco.org or call 1-800-776-9513.
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