My wife spoke the words I did not want to hear, “Bob, we need to have the conversation.” But Luann works for hospice in an education-focused role, and I knew that we would be practicing what she preaches at some point.
“The conversation” refers to having a conversation with our children about our advance directives. It’s not exactly your typical brunch conversation. “Hey kids, someday your mom and I are going to die, and usually the process requires decisions around the quality of our end of life… and, oh yes, please pass the muffins.” Yikes!
Understandably I had some trepidation. Partly because it seemed like an awkward conversation, but mostly I was nervous because I knew this meant I needed to spend time reflecting on my own end of life. I was in denial when it came to the advance directive; I thought it was too soon or maybe not all that necessary. After all, isn’t this something old people do?
Luann handed me the form, and I began to fill it out. When it was complete, we reviewed our advance directives with each other. We shared our thoughts and fears and talked about seemingly obvious and yet not fully understood considerations. (I now know that for Luann, there will not be a Packer Game on in the background…). The process was eye-opening, and I realized that if the questions were difficult for me now, they would only be that much more difficult for my family if everything was left unspoken and unanswered.
Luann, of course, quickly pointed out that we were not done and that we now needed to communicate this to our adult children. “Really?” I thought, “It’s all written down. Do we really need to talk about it more? They’re adults; they can read.” But Luann was firm. “Do you honestly want this information revealed to our children only when we are in a crisis?” She was right.
So, we planned a brunch. As it turned out, we were planning to get together for ‘Grandma’s Marathon’ in Duluth, MN. It would be my and our youngest daughter’s first marathon. The whole family was getting together to run or cheer, so Luann felt the timing was perfect. Luann arranged for us to have a brunch the day after the marathon to discuss our directives specifically. I was hoping that we would quickly end up chatting about our running time splits and how we felt at Lemon Drop Hill, but I knew it was essential to try and have the more difficult conversation.
To my surprise, our children showed no hesitation. They were more than willing to listen, question, and even add a little humor to the discussion. We talked about the power of health, comfort care, and our hope for a quality of end of life. Each of our children learned what we wanted from them and how we expected they might help us navigate the end of our lives. As the discussion went on, I could see each of my children reflect on their own end-of-life considerations and recognize why they too should fill out an advance directive.
What I thought might be a short discourse turned into a very thoughtful and engaging conversation that went well into the afternoon. I am more than grateful that Luann challenged our family to discuss this. It was a lovely brunch; we all learned a little more about each other. And yes, the muffins were good too!