Talking the Talk

End of life. It’s a topic that no one really wants to talk about it. If we close our eyes and cover our ears, maybe it will just go away, right? Except that it won’t. All of us are mortal, all of us will experience the inevitable cycle of birth to death. We may not have choices about when we die or from what cause (putting aside anything self-inflicted, of course), but many of us can make choices about end of life decisions and even about arrangements after our death.

Yet not everyone is willing to accept that they are going to die or that their loved ones are going to die. As much as they know it rationally, the emotional response is something else altogether. When my father was critically ill, I worried that the cemetery plot next to my mother would not be available if we needed it. I knew that my dad had only purchased the one plot and it upset me to think that they might end up separated in the cemetery, so I inquired and I purchased the plot, hoping that I would not have to use it, yet but fearful that I would. As it happened, my father recovered and lived another five years. But that is not the end of the story. He learned that I had bought this plot and his reaction was not relief — it was anger. He was furious with me for having done this and did not speak to me for weeks as a result.

Why this reaction? I think that, while he understood that all of us have limited life spans, he was in denial. That’s not an unusual reaction. We ask families of very elderly and frail individuals about their loved one’s wishes, about funeral plans and the like, and we sometimes receive a very angry response. It is as if by talking about it, we will make it happen and that, of course, is not the case.

Having the conversation, knowing your loved one’s choices as well as your own, is not a negative. Rather, it is a positive, taking that kind of pressure off the family when the moment comes and making sure that the choices made are what the individual would desire. There are a number of resources available to help you both make your own choices and have the conversation with others. If these are choices for yourself, think through what matters most to you, what fears you have, who you would want to have control over decisions regarding your health and your finances.

For a conversation with a loved one, choose the time and place well. Ask questions and listen. These are their choices and wishes. This is a sensitive discussion and you may not agree with what they want but the opportunity to have some dialogue is powerful. Nothing makes the end of life easy but if the decisions have been made and communicated, it can bring both clarity and comfort.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is past chair of LeadingAge and the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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