I was recently visiting a community in Northern California, and met a spunky, feisty, opinionated 90 year old who said to me, “They say that old people can’t handle change, but look how much change we have seen in our lives!” We talked about the evolution of our culture – especially in the last 20 or so years of information, cell phones, and social media. She showed me her smart phone, and said, “Don’t know what I would do without it now!” We both laughed and talked about the past 50 years wondering how we kept our kids alive with no seat belts in our cars, and how microwaves were the newest technology!
As we connected , she told me that her daughter is upset that she is getting all her ‘ducks in a row’ for the end of her life. She said that her daughter did not want to talk about it, and the discussion made her daughter uncomfortable. “What’s the big deal?,” she said. “We are all going to die – that is one thing that does not change. I am giving her a gift!” She told me how she has all of the funeral arrangements in place, the dress she wants to wear, the plot purchased, and the headstone designed. “All my kids have to do is throw a party and celebrate!”
I shared with her that my mother, who passed away in 2010, did that for us too, and she included us in the discussion and in the planning. I also told her that no matter how old a parent is or how good a life they have lived – for their children, it is still a devastating loss, and we yearned for our mother, even though she told us it was ok, and that she was ready to transition on to her ‘next great adventure.’ So, because our mother ‘got all her ducks in a row’ – our big family of 5 siblings had no ‘business’ to take care of. Our mother gave us the gift of allowing us to focus on caring for each other and embracing the memories and legacy of our mom.
I have been thinking about the wisdom of this elder woman. My husband and I have adult children, and we have not had this important conversation with one another or with our children. Even though I ask many family members and elders about their own Advance Directives, even for me it has been somewhat uncomfortable to talk about. But like this elder said to me, “What is the big deal? We are all going to die.” So it is smart to talk about it now.
There are two great resources online that can help us all begin the conversation in our homes with our families:
FIVE WISHES is a non-profit organization sponsored by Aging with Dignity. Five Wishes is America’s most popular living will because it is written in every day language. A PDF file of the sample allows you to see how easy it is to begin the conversation.
Five Wishes is used in all 50 states and in countries around the world. It meets the legal requirements for an advance directive in 42 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. In the other eight states your completed Five Wishes can be attached to your state’s required form. The FIVE WISHES ARE:
- My wish for the person to make care decisions for me when I can’t.
- My Wish for the kind of medical treatment I don’t want.
- My wish for how comfortable I want to be.
- My Wish for how I want people to treat me.
- My Wish for what I want my loved ones to know.
MY GIFT OF GRACE is another resource for starting the conversation.
- My Gift of Grace is a surprisingly fun game about end of life that families around the world are using to start meaningful conversations.
- They also have a new Conversation Event Kit that includes everything you need to host an engaging, enlightening event for your community and staff.
Conversations about values and goals are the best way to ensure that everyone gets the kind of care they want. But these conversations can be challenging to start.
No matter what your age, it is an important discussion to have, because as my new friend and wise elder told me last week, “What’s the big deal in talking about it? We are all going to die.” Let’s talk about how to do it with grace and as part of our legacy!
About the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.