Several years ago, I read about a woman, Alexandra Drane, who started a movement called Engage with Grace, where people would discuss end of life care with their families during Thanksgiving Dinner. She chose this particular time because there is s good chance that most family members are together during this holiday. Initially, this might sound like a difficult topic to discuss (death), but it becomes easier if the discussion is amongst family members and based on the guideline questions posted on their website, such as: “would you prefer to die at home? In a hospital?” “Is there someone you trust whom you’ve appointed to advocate on your behalf when the time is near?” (Download the Questions here: theoneslide) The website includes links that explains the terms, such as, “living will”, ” power of attorney” and “health care advanced directive” (most comprehensive) and allow you to download these documents for your particular state.
Drane lost her 32 year old sister-in-law, Rosaria, in 2004. Not listening to medical advice, the family brought Rosaria home to die and to be with her young daughter. The family feels that they made the right choice given the terminal condition of Rosaria’s illness and the connection she was able to have with her child. But Drane believes that not every family will be able to figure out what their loved one would prefer in these terminal care cases. She strongly urges families to discuss the matter before it’s too late. Furthermore, she suggests that all family members fill out the questionnaire so each voice will be heard in their individual case.
I know of only one friend whose parents prepared for their end of life in a methodical way. The parents gathered all six grown children and handed each one a dossier of all their final decisions as far as their money, property, estate, living will and healthcare directives. Nothing was left to chance. All the kids were astonished and relieved. It was the most wonderful gift parents could ever give their children. This family was an unusual case. Most of us have not prepared or even thought about these questions.
If you are uncertain about how to proceed with these end of life questions, sometimes it is best to consult outside professionals, such as clergy or attorneys. I suggest photocopying the Engage with Grace questionnaire for each family member to fill out with his/her wishes. This small act will probably prompt more conversation on related topics, but that is probably a good thing. Being fully prepared for the end of life is wise and a consolation to the rest of your family. Then I suggest celebrating your wise preparation with a glass of wine or a slice of pumpkin pie.
Reference: Talking Turkey by Kay Lazar, The Boston Globe, November 26, 2008