This past week, I read an article in The New York Times about women and heart attacks. Amid all the information about the differences between women and men with heart attack symptoms, survival rates, and treatments, one particular line stood out to me: “It’s good to be informed, not terrified.” And I thought, what a great statement! This line has a place in the work that Caring Choices is doing.
When we talk to people about having personal conversations and making healthcare choices with their family and friends, many have that deer-in-the-headlights look. They’re terrified to start these conversations for a variety of reasons:
- Some fear that somehow just talking about death will bring it about.
- Many are afraid their loved ones will become irreparably sad or depressed.
- Several “just don’t want to go there.”
- Others are concerned that too much information will make them fret and worry, and take away their focus on just living/enjoying their lives.
Since no one has a crystal ball to help us anticipate which disease(s) will befall us or to know when a trauma/accident will occur, it behooves us to begin thinking now about the “what if” scenarios that accompany illness, accidents and simply getting older. Not that we can consider EVERY possible outcome of aging, disease, or crisis; but having information about disease trajectories of which we may be at higher risk, or the common maladies of advanced age, need not terrify us.
Nearly every day, I encounter an elder person who says:
- “I didn’t expect to live this long/be in a nursing home.”
- “I don’t want to be a burden to my family.”
Or, I encounter a family member (usually an adult child) who says:
- “I just can’t take care of Mom at home anymore.”
- “I wish I knew what Dad wanted us to do.”
These comments illustrate the importance of having conversations before we reach ripe old ages, before chronic diseases reach end-stage, and before a trauma occurs. Having information does not provoke the occurrence of health problems. Sharing information does not necessarily produce sadness, depression or fear. But we’ve seen that NOT having conversations and making decisions does promote chaos, guilt, fear, confusion and, sometimes, dissension. Which scenario would you like your family to be in when you reach your end-of-life stage: informed, cooperative, emotionally-supportive advocates or uninformed, quarrelsome, emotionally-conflicted adversaries?
Caring Choices endorses having all the information you need to make decisions and have conversations without being terrified. Sometimes that means you and your family need someone who can help you begin the conversation and mediate stalling factors. We can help. You can talk about this.
(c) 2014 Caring Choices