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Difficult conversations today can provide a world of comfort tomorrow

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If you knew you had a limited time to live, how would you want to spend your time? Do your family members and friends understand how you’d want to spend those precious moments? Would you know how to honor their final wishes?

Talking about end-of-life preferences is never an easy conversation, but it’s an important one to have to ensure that you and your loved ones’ wishes for care and comfort are properly honored when serious illness sets in. With November’s designation as National Hospice & Palliative Care Month, it’s the perfect opportunity to begin or revisit this difficult discussion, before the reality of illness makes it a much more emotional process.

“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.”

Most of us wouldn’t think of going into a major life event without advance thought and planning—buying a house, getting married, and entering retirement. Yet many don’t plan for one of the most critical life experiences we all will face. Taking the time now to clarify your final wishes and understand those of your loved ones can ensure that preferences regarding medical intervention, as well as personal, emotional and spiritual desires, deliver the best quality of life, even in the midst of serious illness.

“If you’re having trouble starting an end-of-life conversation with family and friends, look for opportunities to segue into it from other discussions,” said HOM Social Worker Susan Mueller, MSW. “The news of the day could be the catalyst. The death of a celebrity may open the door. Engage older family members by asking about the deaths of their loved ones. Such communication provides an opportunity to naturally shift into talking about your own mortality in a way that’s comfortable for everyone.”

As you and your loved ones gather for this sensitive conversation, consider the following:

*Who do you want making your healthcare decisions if you are unable? Sometimes a spouse or family member is the best choice. Sometimes not. It’s most important to choose someone who knows you very well and can make difficult decisions to ensure your wishes are followed.

*What kind of medical treatment do you or don’t you want? It’s more than just deciding whether or not you want life support. It’s identifying your definition of life support and expressing any religious or personal beliefs that will help those around you understand which intervention(s) you find acceptable.

*How comfortable do you want to be? Completely comfortable seems the obvious answer, but if that leaves you more drowsy and sleepy than you otherwise would be is there a balance you’d like to achieve? But it’s not just pain management. Is there favorite music you’d like played and readings you’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? Providing clear direction regarding funeral and burial arrangements is vital. But, it’s also an opportunity to leave a personal legacy. Sharing your expressions of love, forgiveness and peace, even your thoughts and acceptance of death itself, can bring years of comfort to your friends and family.

Nobody knows what the future will hold, but planning and communicating end-of-life wishes can provide some certainty during a difficult time. Hospice of Michigan offers Have you had the talk? (www.haveyouhadthetalk.com) 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. Having the difficult discussion today means you and your loved ones can live all of your tomorrows in dignity, comfort and peace.

For more information, call 888-247-5701 or visit www.hom.org.

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