I have long felt that one of our societal challenges around discussing health care wishes is that we lack routine, established moments in our lives for doing so. But this is beginning to change. In November, your clients and your community have two burgeoning traditions for raising the subject of end-of-life wishes.
From now through November 20, faith communities around the country will be participating in Conversation Sabbath. This engagement initiative is designed to encourage clergy to teach and preach about the benefits of “having these conversations early, in the comfort of a familiar setting, not waiting until there is a medical crisis,” according to Reverend Rosemary Lloyd, who is spearheading this initiative. (Click here for a short video with Rev. Lloyd.) Only in its second year, Conversation Sabbath is spearheaded by the Conversation Project, known for its founder, columnist Ellen Goodman and for its conversation Starter Kit. Here’s how you can consider getting involved:
- Find out where/if a Conversation Sabbath is being held in your community.
- Attend an event held in a house(s) of worship –whether it be the clergy preaching during a sermon, a teaching workshop on “having the conversation”, or other event.
- Offer to participate in a follow-up event addressing the legal and medical issues of congregants about actually recording their wishes in an advance directive. The Conversation Project has identified that this may be a useful follow-up activity, as “having the conversation” often leads to discussions about advance directive forms and documentation.
- Be a catalyst for Conversation Sabbath in your community in 2017. Especially if there is not any action in your community this year, consider hosting or co-hosting an introductory meeting of clergy in your community to share the idea of a Conversation Sabbath for next year. (The Conversation Sabbath Resource Center has many materials to share with clergy (scroll down to find “Resources for Faith Communities”). Also, direct clergy to C-TAC to learn about its faith-based community action project. In meeting with clergy of all faiths, take this opportunity to learn about the weightiest issues that they see when clients face end of life decision making. Is there anything you could do in your own practice to better help your clients?
While you might not think so, Thanksgiving, with everyone gathered round for a leisurely day, can be a good time for a family discussion about end-of-life wishes. It can actually bring people closer and create less worry about the “what ifs.” The most vocal proponent of this ritual is Patricia Bomba, M.D., who has this conversation with her family every Thanksgiving. On this holiday, Dr. Bomba’s motto is:
“No pumpkin pie, until you tell me how you want to live until you die.”
I’ve had this conversation at Thanksgiving with my own family. It was admittedly a bit awkward getting started, but once we were into it, the conversation flowed naturally, we became more comfortable, and everyone did report feeling better afterward. I encourage you to give it a try at your own Thanksgiving table, too. Click here if you’d like a draft article for your client newsletter or e-blast encouraging clients to “have the talk” over Thanksgiving.
I do believe that having these conversations in a regular, periodic fashion normalizes them. Conducted on a routine schedule, these conversations can be more straightforward, not as anxiety-producing, and can actually make folks feel better and less burdened. If you “have the talk” at your Thanksgiving table, or if your clients do, please let me know how it went, along with any tips of tricks that worked for you. Happy Thanksgiving to you, your family, and your clients!
Randi J. Siegel, MBA, is the President of DocuBank® (docubank.com), which ensures that the emergency information and healthcare directives of its 250,000+ enrollees are available 24/7/365 through the largest advance directives registry in the U.S., as well as access to an online safe for storage of digital assets and other vital documents. Working with estate planning professionals since 1997, Randi frequently speaks at national estate planning conferences and has appeared on radio and television as an authority on registries. A member of the Philadelphia Estate Planning Council, the International Society of Advance Care Planning and the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care, Randi is active in health education and public engagement related to advance care planning/advance directives. She serves as Pennsylvania liaison to the National Healthcare Decisions Day initiative and as a board member of the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly. Randi is an ongoing contributor to the Academy blog.
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