I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had lately about preparing for the end of life and how few people actually do it. It should be a straightforward conversation, as well as a necessary one. All it takes is the courage to face the inescapable fact that every one of us will die eventually and to talk about what we want when the time is near.
In a recent article by Dr. Rachael Bedard, a geriatrician and palliative-care doctor, in The New Yorker, Dr. Bedard writes: “What I understood after a few years of taking care of the very sick and dying is that most people can’t say what they want or what they care about when they’re nearing the end: they’re overwhelmed, or in pain, or delirious.” Dr. Bedard asks her patient, “What would be most important to them in those moments. Would they want to die at home, receive CPR, have a feeding tube? Would they prefer to be with certain people, to be blessed with certain prayers, to listen to a specific song?”
In her family, she admits, no one has shared a vision for the end of their lives or even written a living will. In her family, there is a staunch refusal to acknowledge the inevitable.
“Most illness is experienced as a scatterplot of symptoms and challenges, not as a straight and sudden decline,” she explains. “Signs of degeneration can go unnoticed for years and then come into focus as harbingers of doom … The essence of geriatric medicine is the anticipation of cascading health problems,” which often overlap each other.
If you are an older adult facing the end of your life, you may miss or misinterpret the signs of what is happening. If you are the adult child of an aging person, it is up to you to pay attention and remain aware of your parent’s decline, no matter how subtle. In either case, you should read this illuminating article. Its message is clear, timely, and relatable.