Who Will Speak for You? Having “The Conversation” with Your Family

Are you a thirty or fortysomething caring for aging parents? A retiree wanting to “have a say” in what lies ahead? The idea of planning for end-of-life care has been gaining momentum as society sees what happens when we ourselves don’t make these decisions ahead of time. Without advance planning, too many people are dying in ways they wouldn’t choose, and their loved ones can be left feeling lost, frustrated, or guilty. Often families are split apart trying to make the unplanned and difficult end-of-life decisions for parents, spouses, or children. Truly, letting your wishes be known is one of the greatest gifts that can be given to family and friends.

People of all ages are beginning to think about how they hope to age, where they want to spend their last years, and who can help them make medical decisions or choices at the end of their life. Medical economists promote advance care planning as a way to reduce expensive hospital care at the end of life, and that is one important goal. But for most people, it is really about living our best possible lives with meaning, comfort, caring, and dignity, until we die.

In recognition of National Healthcare Decisions Day, on Tuesday, April 16, Healthy Peninsula’s “Choices That Matter,” a project that encourages conversations about planning for end-of-life care, will be hosting a Palliative Care Panel Discussion, “Palliative Care versus Hospice: Understanding the Difference” from 7:00-8:30 pm at the Bagaduce Music Lending Library Performance Hall in Blue Hill. The brief TED Talk video, “What Really Matters Most At the End of Life,” will be shown, followed by a panel discussion highlighting palliative care and the importance of advance-care planning. The discussion will be open to questions and answers from the audience. Panelists will include Jim VanKirk, MD and the Medical Director of Palliative Care; Zoë Tenney, Family Nurse Practitioner, part-time Palliative Care; Anne Donovan-Fortier, Palliative Care LCSW; and Amy Wescott, Home Health & Hospice LCSW. All are from Northern Light Health.

Did you know that if you are hesitant to talk with your parents, children, or other family members about end-of-life care, there are people and organizations right here on the Blue Hill Peninsula that can help you get started? Open up  conversations with your healthcare provider, church or spiritual leader, or friends. Call Healthy Peninsula to be connected for free, to local, trained “Choices That Matter” volunteers who can sit with you and help you figure out where you would like to begin, right at your own kitchen table. Check out https://healthypeninsula.org/initiatives/healthy-aging/choices-that-matter/ for a list of online resources.

The Maine Hospital Association has developed the Maine Health Care Advance Directive—also known as a “living will”—which is available online for printing at home or in paper form that you will get at a visit with your health care provider’s office. This form, as well as the “Five Wishes” form, can be completed by you and your family members or with guidance from your healthcare provider. It can be revised at any time if your wishes change, and it does not need to be notarized or completed by a lawyer.

We can all play a role: Start having “The Conversation” with your parents, adult children or grandchildren, and friends. Print out or get a copy of the Maine Health Care Advance Directive or “Five Wishes” and begin to look it over. Make sure your loved ones know what you want and give them, as well as your health care provider a copy of your Directive. By proactively taking charge of your end-of-life planning, both you and those who care for you will feel the relief of having had “The Conversation.”

For more information about the “Choices That Matter” project, planning resources, or to get involved,  email Becky Pease at [email protected] or leave a message at the Healthy Peninsula office 374-3257.

This article was written by Sandra Phoenix. She is a nurse practitioner, health advocate, and a member of the Healthy Peninsula Board of Directors.