My beloved grandfather was a life-long smoker. As a direct result, he struggled with emphysema in the last years of his life and it was a miserable condition to die from. Of the many wonderful things he passed down to me, one was indirectly from him but from how he passed.
My father watched his suffering in and out of the hospital over several weeks. We didn't know about hospice then and it was a cycle of going to the hospital, get feeding tubes to feed him, then send him home where his body was shutting down and didn't want to eat and then back to the hospital once again. This was repeated two - three times and my poor grandfather was so miserable. My dad helped him as best he could through it all and determined he would never go through the kind of misery my grandpa had to deal with, but more importantly that he would never put me through what he and my mom went through.
My grandparents never really talked much about "the end of life" with my parents. It just happened. My parents remembered that and chose to be wonderfully proactive about discussing this topic with me several years before my dad died, as he saw the direction his Parkinson's Disease was headed.
We talked about and implemented both a Living Will and a Power of Attorney. We also discussed how they wanted to handle all the different steps involved with a positive "end-of-life" for both parents. Thanks to an article I read, we even talked about my dad's favorite Bible verses and hymns which we used for his memorial service after he passed away.
And yes! As hard as his last year was for him, for mom, for our families, and for myself, all that pre-planning made this difficult season of life much easier than it could have been.
Of course, you or your senior parents don't need to have a disease to talk about this tough topic. Even if you are in excellent health, it is an important discussion to have. After the publicity of the Terri Schiavo case, my kids and I all discussed who would be in charge if one of them - or I - was injured and unable to express our wishes in that situation. Hopefully, we will never need to deal with anything like that, but if we do, we are definitely better prepared to do so.
My parents and I didn't discuss these topics over dinner. We usually just chatted about them when I was visiting at their home or when we were out at doctor appointments. I did read at AARP about an interesting trend among many of us baby boomers - Discussing End-of-Life Issues Over Dinner.
Whether you decide to go with a dinner format or a more casual chat in the living room, there are some excellent resources online to help us with these discussions and with preparing and planning for a positive and proactive "end-of-life."
- The National Institute on Aging has some excellent information to help with this topic including a free PDF booklet - End-of-Life: Helping With Comfort and Care - and another free PDF - Getting Your Affairs in Order. Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom as you should see links to even more useful pages and booklets.
- AARP has another good article, Beginning the Conversation About the End of Life with suggestions for questions to ask and links to more resources.
- The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization has some excellent links and resources at Learn About End-of-Life Care. They cover the topics of hospice and palliative care as well as Advance DIrectives and Living Wills, including state-specific Advance Directives for you to download.
- Alzheimer's Disease diagnoses are growing and this health issue definitely has some extra challenges. Alzheimers.org has a good section on Planning for Your Future including Legal and Financial Planning, Building a Care Plan and End of Life Planning.
- Kiplinger's is always a favorite resource of mine including their article, 4 Key End-of-Life Documents to Get in Order which lists the four vital forms along with the reminder that many banks and other companies have their own forms as well, something my family has run into many times! So be sure to check with all your banks and financial institutions to ask whether they will accept what you have or need another form from them.
All of these combined are an excellent starting point for what is usually a long season of preparation and implementation for elderly parents and those who will be helping them address this topic. It's not an easy time but it can be the beginning of a new kind of closeness with each other as you come alongside to help one another. It's also a wonderful opportunity to set an example for the next generation. And as time-consuming as all this paperwork can seem, in the long run it will truly be a major time and stress-saver.
How about you? Have you or your elderly parents already had this "end of life" discussion? Do you have any thoughts or suggestions for resources to add to our list. We'd love to hear them in the comments below.
Written by senior living writer Kaye Swain