Remember all those times your parents sat you down for “a talk?” Well, now it’s your turn. You can’t have an “emergency” plan for those daunting life-or-death issues unless you know what your parents do - and do not - want regarding their health care. Do they want a DNR order? How about a feeding tube? Are they comfortable going to hospice? Do they want to remain at home? These aren’t easy questions. But hey, do you think they were comfortable talking to you about sex? It’s just one of those things that has to be done. And, like most things in life, timing is everything, This is not a conversation to initiate during a Mother's Day or Father's Day celebration or during a Thanksgiving meal.
Find a quiet moment for what is bound to be an emotional chat. Make sure you are prepared, and start slowly. Don’t try to cover all issues at once. It takes time. Figure out an easy way to broach the topic. (My friend had an experience that got me thinking….my insurance agent asked me questions about my long term needs that I had never thought of...remember so and so, well they’re in an Assisted Living Community now…or simply, we really need to talk)
Need more guidance? Peruse Jane Gross' book "A Bittersweet Season: Caring For Our Aging Parents -- and Ourselves", or David Solie’s "How To Say It To Seniors."
It’s essential to have a list of the issues - and make sure your siblings are included (you do not want to take this on yourself, even if you are Mom’s favorite). Be empathetic - you may not agree with their wishes but remember, it’s their life. Parents fear losing control and their independence while children are hesitant to open a Pandora’s box. So it’s crucial that they don’t think you are trying to take over their lives.
Explain your motivation for the discussion (perhaps you’re concerned for their physical safety or want to make sure that they aren’t being financially scammed). Having these conversations and being prepared will make the care giving journey so much easier for everyone.
Talking to your parents in advance of a crisis - when they are able to communicate their desires and thoughts in a relaxed setting will result in better outcomes both for them and the rest of the family.
You may be surprised - your parents may have wanted to broach the subject, but didn’t want to worry you. And, sometimes just talking about things makes you feel a whole lot better.
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