First of all let’s just state the obvious…, Dignity and Independence require communication. While some people will find this the ultimate solution, others will consider a tooth extraction before talking. Sometimes this also falls along gender lines, but not always. However it doesn’t matter how long you have been with someone, they still aren’t mind readers. Yes we have all met those couples that finish each other’s sentences but still no mind reading involved. You must clearly state your desires.
So how do we begin the conversation? Think first of perspective. You are not having this conversation because you are old, or you have a life threatening diagnosis or because you just want to be sad. This conversation is just like a conversation about finances, where to vacation, what to buy the kids or grandkids for their birthdays, etc. This conversation is best addressed long before there is an issue because issues cloud the exchange with the emotions of the issue.
Also you need to discern whom to engage in this conversation. For example I am not sure that I will ever be able to have this conversation with my daughter. It would just be too emotional for both of us. However I could have this conversation with my son? Why, because he doesn’t like me? No, not at all, I could have this conversation with my son because he can more readily put aside the emotion and look at the conversation logically. So does that mean I will never have this conversation with my daughter? Well no but I will have a conversation with a different feel to it with my daughter than the conversation I have with my son. Our son in law has clearly stated to his wife, our daughter, “Sweetheart your parents are never going to leave this house. They will have stair-lifts, ceiling lifts, and pulleys and gadgets all over this place.” While that will always brings a laugh, he is right. My husband and I have given some real thought to this question even though we are in good health and years away from enacting anything.
My Father had a health directive that clearly stated that he didn’t want any life sustaining measures taken. Yet because he suffered a massive heart attack on the operating table, and the physician did not know about his health directive, he came out of the operating with tubes everywhere. Nowadays you can’t go into the hospital without a health directive but in cases of emergency make certain that someone knows you wishes, where to find your written instructions, and most importantly make sure the doctor knows your wishes.
To this day I am not sure what was more shocking his sudden demise or all the tubes. He had repeatedly told everyone in the family that he wanted no tubes, yet here he was. I do not know if he ever regained consciousness enough to know what was happening but I knew that as I sat with him that night it wasn’t what he wanted. To this day I wish that I could have honored his wish and allowed him to pass with dignity. He had spent his whole life as a surgeon dealing with people’s wishes, yet in the end I could not honor his wishes. So have the conversation because the conversation is empowering. It gives you some control over a time and date you have no control over. It gives your loved ones a sense of direction at a time when the world seems to be spinning out of control. Most importantly you will never leave a child or loved one behind saying, “I wish.”