When Is the Best Time to Discuss End-of-Life Wishes?

advance care planning

The best time to prepare for crisis is before a crisis hits. COVID-19 has flooded our communities with anxiety and panic mainly because we have had no way to prepare for it. Hospitals, healthcare organizations, companies, businesses, and schools are scrambling at all hours of the night as they work to care for their patients, employees, clients, and students well. The unbelievable amount of stress going around is a result of the fact that we are creating a battle plan in the thick of battle.  When you’re making decisions in the midst of crisis and battle, the panic, tension, drama, and all the things we try to avoid in life are inevitable.

If you’re adult child, you’ll help your parents a great deal when you realize one thing—that the most productive discussions and best decisions are made when we are not in crisis. Crisis for the older adult varies; it can come in the form of hospital visits, illness, diagnosis, falls, and the loss of physical or even mental abilities. Today, a very real crisis that might occur for our elderly relatives is that one of them (and hopefully not all of them) could contract the coronavirus. This is why it’s urgent for us to talk to our older family members (and anyone we love) about what they want if COVID-19 or another health crisis hits. That’s why we have to discuss what the healthcare professionals call “advance care planning” or “end-of-life wishes.” 

Listen to me—you will set yourself up for more stress, drama, anxiety, and panic if you choose to talk to your parents about crisis only after it hits. You will set your parents up for unnecessary pain, suffering, and anxiety if you choose to talk to your parents about crisis only after it hits. And there’s one more thing. When you and your family members don’t discuss end of life wishes, you also set medical professionals up for more stress, anxiety, and guilt because they are left to make life-altering decisions for you. 

Important decision should never be made on the fly. Just think, if your parent experiences a major health issue like COVID-19, there may be no time allotted to make decisions or a very short timeline. If your family member gets COVID-19, you may not even be able to communicate with them in person. You may be left to communicate difficult things over the phone. In the midst of any crisis, our mouths may stumble to communicate the right words. Our ears may not be able to listen fully to each other. Our minds may have trouble processing. Our hearts may be charged with extreme emotions or the reality of what is happening may not have hit and we may have with no emotion at all. 

If talking about end-of-life issues with your parent or grandparent scares you, then it’s important that you take advantage of our current situation. 

RIGHT NOW, in the midst of the COVID pandemic is an IDEAL time to have end of life conversations. 

Talking about end of life wishes is such a sensitive topic. But your desire to talk about your parents wishes can feel less intrusive when you communicate how end-of-life conversations are an important way that ALL families can love their parents/grandparents during this time. 

A sample prompt: “Mom, all seniors are considered at higher risk for contracting COVID and I want to ensure you are cared for the way you want to be cared for if anything happens. By talking about it, it can help minimize unnecessary suffering or pain.” 

Stay tuned for other resources to help you have these conversations with more confidence! 

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