Holiday Real Talk: Hospice of Michigan Encourages Families to Have End-of-Life Discussions

Nonprofit hospice offers tips for conversation starters

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (Nov. 20, 2018) – The holidays are filled with joy and merriment as loved ones gather around the table to enjoy good company and conversation. The question, “What would you like for Christmas or Hanukkah?” is often asked to younger family members. This holiday season, Hospice of Michigan encourages a different question for the younger generation to ask their elders: “What are your end-of-life preferences?”

While end-of-life discussions may seem as unusual dinner table fodder, people are beginning to break those barriers and normalize these conversations. Death Cafes and Death Dinners – which encourage families to hold dinners specifically for these discussions – are growing in popularity within communities. It can be a difficult topic to broach, especially during this time of the year, but families shouldn’t shy away when parents and grandparents want to talk about what they want when they die.

According to The Conversation Project National Survey, 90 percent of people say that talking with their loved one about end-of-life care is important, but only 27 percent have done so. While 60 percent of those surveyed say they don’t want to burden their family with tough decisions, only 56 percent have communicated their end-of-life wishes.

Hospice of Michigan suggests that if a loved one wants to talk, let them.

“We often see a distinct difference in the experiences of the patients and families we serve who have documented their thoughts on end-of-life care and those who have not,” said Michael Paletta MD, FAAHPM, Hospice of Michigan vice president, medical affairs and chief medical officer. “Having shared preferences regarding medical intervention and comfort care, those who’ve pre-planned enter this difficult time with a peace of mind that comes from already knowing the answers to tough decisions that may lie ahead.”

The nonprofit hospice organization recommends asking the following questions when loved ones want to have the conversation:

  • Who do you want making your healthcare decisions if you are unable? Encourage them to choose someone who knows them very well and can make difficult decisions to ensure their wishes are followed.
  • What kind of medical treatment do you – or don’t you – want? It’s more than just deciding whether or not they want lifesaving intervention in an emergency. It’s identifying their definition of life support and expressing any religious or personal beliefs that will help everyone around them understand which interventions are acceptable.
  • How comfortable do you want to be? Completely comfortable seems the obvious answer. Ask them for further details including their thoughts on medication that might leave them drowsy or sleepy. But it’s not just about pain management. Is there favorite music they’d like played and readings they’d like to hear? What about massage therapies and personal care? No end-of-life wish is too insignificant and should be shared.
  • What do you want your loved ones to know? Ask them about their preferences regarding funeral and burial arrangements. This is also a good opportunity for your loved one to leave a personal legacy. Sharing their expressions of love, forgiveness and peace, even thoughts and acceptance of death itself, can provide years of comfort to friends and family.

“While it’s important to note that decisions don’t have to be made immediately, it’s always a good idea to have the talk,” adds Paletta. “One brief conversation will lead to another, and eventually you and your loved ones can engage in a deeper dialogue about end-of-life preferences.”

Hospice of Michigan offers HaveYouHadTheTalk, one of many online resources that can help you and your loved ones discuss and document your preferences. For those needing help broaching the subject, Hospice of Michigan spiritual care advisors and social workers are also available to offer tips on getting the conversation started. For more information about Hospice of Michigan, please call 888-247-5701.

About Hospice of Michigan
A nationally recognized leader in end-of-life care, Hospice of Michigan (HOM) is the original – and largest – hospice in the state. A founding member of the NorthStar Care Community, the nonprofit delivers the highest quality of care, raising more than $5 million each year to cover costs for the uninsured and underinsured. HOM offers a broad range of services to enhance the quality of life at the end of life. HOM also provides grief support and counseling, as well as caregiver education and support. A member of the NorthStar Care Community, HOM also provides palliative care through NorthStar Palliative Care, pediatric hospice care and compassionate support services through Jo Elyn Nyman Anchors Programs for Children, and education programs for physicians and health care professionals through the NorthStar Institute. The NorthStar Care Community also includes Arbor Hospice. In total, NorthStar Care Community members serve nearly 6,500 patients annually across Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. For more information, call 888.247.5701.