The End-Of-Life Conversation: What if it NEVER happens?

Greta was very close with her in-laws, and often referred to them as “the parents she never really had.” When her father-in-law, Chuck, started to show signs of dementia, she stepped in immediately to help. For as long as Greta could remember, Chuck and the other members of the family were completely averse to having an end-of-life conversation, because it was too “depressing.” They changed the subject every time Greta brought up the need to make their wishes known through discussion, followed by incapacity planning documents, particularly for Chuck, before his dementia became too advanced to make decisions. Although planning was never formally done, while he was of sound mind Chuck confided in Greta that he wanted to be taken off of life support, should he become incapacitated and end up in a coma.

Unfortunately, the time came, and Greta told the family about the conversation she had with Chuck and what his wishes were. Chuck’s children, however, expressed that they wanted to have him kept on life support, even though it was futile, and his wife agreed. The eldest daughter, Sue, who is a nurse, kept spouting off stories of people who were in comas for years and then woke up with a perfectly good mind. Greta knew that would never be the case for Chuck, because he’d had dementia for over 3 years and couldn’t even tell you what day it was. Since there were no documents in place, the hospital took the word of the children and Chuck’s wife, and kept him on life support.

After two weeks, Greta’s husband, Ron, went to see his dad and saw a look in his eyes that said, “Help me!” He broke down and cried because he knew his dad really didn’t want to be on life support. He finally talked his mother into removing the ventilator. His Dad actually lived 5 more days, but finally died. Greta’s relationship with her husband’s brother and sisters hasn’t been the same since then.

Three months after Chuck passed away, Greta’s mother-in-law decided it was wise to have the end-of-life conversation with her family and for everyone to have a plan in place, so their end-of-life wishes are expressed and respected.

Like Chuck, too many people are dying in a way they wouldn’t choose, and too many of their loved ones are left feeling bereaved, guilty, and uncertain. This is why it is important to take the time to share the way we want to live at the end of our lives and to communicate about the kind of care we want and don’t want for ourselves.

Did you know that 60% of people say that making sure their family is not burdened by tough decisions is “extremely important,” yet 56% have not communicated their end-of-life wishes.  A conversation, followed by incapacity planning, can make all the difference, but must be done before it’s too late.

It’s not easy to talk about how you want the end of your life to be. But it’s one of the most important conversations you can have with your loved ones. How do you get started?

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Ellen Goodman co-founded The Conversation Project to help families have these important end-of-life discussions. In a recent U.S. News and World Report video, she shares her compelling reasons for helping start the group and how important it is for all family members to sit down and talk. She also shares a “Starter Kit” to help families have the conversation. In addition, please read our blog post about Death Cafes for an alternative way to have the conversation.

Talking about end of life issues is an emotional and difficult task for most of us, and it is an important first step to making sure your wishes are clear. Once you have taken the step of speaking with your loved ones about your wishes, it is important to develop incapacity planning documents, including an Advance Medical Directive, to make your wishes legally enforceable. If you and your loved ones have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), now is a good time to plan ahead and be prepared. Learn more at The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. website, or call us at our Virginia Elder Law Fairfax office at 703-691-1888 or at our Virginia Elder Law Fredericksburg office at 540-479-1435 to make an appointment for a consultation.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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