When we were children and adolescents, our parents had the challenging responsibility of talking with us about difficult topics. Teaching us the facts of life, guiding us to choose good friends, and cautioning us about smoking and drug use were never easy discussions to have.
Raising these topics was doubly hard for our parents because it was also an acknowledgement that we were growing up and that a new phase of our life was beginning. Yet to have these difficult discussions helped us become wise, strong, and better prepared adults.
Now, for many of us, the tables are turned. As our parents age and perhaps become ill or infirm, we will need to talk with them about their end-of-life choices and decisions, acknowledging a new phase of their lives. In doing so, we will all be wiser, stronger, and better prepared.
For many reasons, it can be awkward to bring up the topic of end-of-life decisions and acknowledge what it will mean to see those plans come to be actual events. Yet as difficult and uncomfortable as it can be, having an honest, open, and thoughtful discussion and plan before any medical crisis arises can bring about valuable peace of mind. Through that knowledge we are honoring the wishes, values, and beliefs of those we love.
Entering into a discussion with parents takes courage to talk openly and deeply about the future and about loss, as well as courage to carry out plans with which we may or may not agree. Paraplegic writer Ambrose Redmoon summed it up well: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”
Talking with my own parents was difficult. Part of me was fearful, almost superstitious, wondering if discussing end-of-life plans would bring them closer to being needed. But more important than my anxiety was the knowledge that I did not want to leave to chance and guesswork one of the most important final gifts I could give to my parents. When the time came and my father was critically ill in the intensive care unit, I was not only prepared to honor his preferences and choices, but comforted, encouraged, and strengthened because I knew what they were.
Excerpt from “Talking About End-of-Life Decisions With Your Parent” from CareNotes.