Thanksgiving: it’s an important time of year on the advance care planning calendar.
This holiday is recommended as a good time to have the family conversation that no one wants to have: about what matters to us if we can’t make health care decisions ourselves. I know that you know this is important. You may even counsel your clients as much. It’s just a question of how to introduce it.
Here are a couple of new ideas from my own experience on how to start this conversation at your Thanksgiving table.
After the turkey (or before the meal – depends on your family’s vibe) gather around the table and try one of these approaches. I suggest including family members 18 and older.
- FAMILY AS A GUINEA PIG
“I’m trying out some potential tools to offer to my clients and I’d like your help.”
I used this approach with my own family a few years ago. Everyone readily agreed to participate. I brought a few advance care planning tools that ask the important questions in different ways. We sputtered at first, because people started analyzing the questions and debating their meaning rather than trying to answer them. This is partly because I was asking them to evaluate the tool. But also, because it’s just safer to answer analytically. But as we talked, people began to open up. My dad started by saying, “look, regardless of what this tool is asking us, Mom and I have talked and we’re both clear that what’s important to us is …” Some of the tools I’ve tested are The Conversation Project, the ABA Toolkit for Health Care Advance Planning and Engage with Grace.
- MAKE IT A GAME!
I recently discovered a card deck that takes this conversation process to the next level by turning it into a game. My whole staff and I played the “Hello” game together a few months ago. It proved to be very good at helping everyone open up and express their thinking and values. My staff found it fun, so it kept them engaged.
There are a variety of “card packs” on the market to facilitate advance care planning discussions. Each card usually has a question about one’s wishes or values. They’re used in various ways – to answer them aloud to others, to sort them into piles according to preference and importance. You get the idea. I’ve tried all the ones I am aware of. To my mind, some work well and others not quite as well, but nonetheless, all are thought-provoking and another way for you to go.
Too chicken to start with your family? Maybe consider evaluating the tools or game near Thanksgiving within your office or firm. My staff members I found it a meaningful way to advance the advance care planning process for them as individuals (of course you can’t compel people to participate), as well as actually helping to evaluate the tools. And it also strengthened the bonds among us.
And if you’re uncomfortable doing either of these, what about broaching with your family at Thanksgiving that you’d like to have this conversation with them next year?
Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving of meaningful holiday conversations.
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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