NBC News hosted an online chat with Reverend Dale Susan Edmonds, hospice chaplain and founder of the caregiving website Talk Early Talk Often. We’re sharing some interesting questions and answers from the chat with you today, on topics that can be extremely awkward to discuss, but which definitely must be addressed. You can view the entire chat here.
Q. Susan writes about end of life care. Her father is not ill, but is eighty-three. She’s worried that he may not have a plan in place, and doesn’t know how to bring the issue up with her father. How should she begin?
A. Start with some related issues so that he knows you want to do what he wants in the future. Ask him the basics:
- Do his close friends and neighbors know your full name and phone number in case of emergency?
- Will he share with you the complete list of his doctors, and his preferred hospital?
- Will he share with you a full and complete list of his medications?
- Will he give you access to his complete medical history?
- In the event of an accident, does he wish for you to be his health care power of attorney? If so, does he have the correct documents in place?
- What does he wish you to do as his health care power of attorney?
- In case his recovery were to be extended and he couldn’t take care of his finances, where are his bills and the information to pay them, and does he feel comfortable giving you power of attorney for finances?
If you start with basic questions such as these, building up to the “big conversations” won’t be as awkward.
Q. Miriam writes about her parents’ plans for their end-of life care. Her parents say they have wills, health proxies, and the like taken care of, but Miriam would like them to show her the documents so that she can ensure they get things squared away. What kinds of questions should she ask?
Rev. Dale notes that it’s perfectly right to be skeptical; if you and your parents have not had a conversation about these things, then everything is not in place. Filling out forms is not enough; that’s just a starting place. Here are a few things you can do to find out if things are truly in order:
- Ask your parents where they have stored the documents. A health care power of attorney in a safe deposit box will do you no good.
- Ask if they have filed copies of their health care power of attorney in their medical records, both with their doctors and their hospital.
- Ask if they have appointed a secondary health care power of attorney in case something happens to you.
- Ask if they want both yourself and the secondary power of attorney to collaborate in making health care decisions for them.
If you demonstrate that you want their wishes to be respected and carried out, they will likely be willing to share more specific details with you.