Last spring our family came together for a family meeting. We hope this meeting was just the first of many. Our main goal was to have each family member—young and old—discuss how we would fill out the Five Wishes so that each of us understands how everyone else would like to be treated in case of a medical emergency. We are also just at the beginning of facing together the reality that some of us are stumbling over the threshold of old age.
We learned from Mom and Dad that caregiving for an elder can be all-consuming at times. Caregivers need all the help they can get, including a solid understanding of the needs and desires of the elder they are caring for. Mom and Dad both made living wills when they were in their 60’s. But at age 90 Dad told us that things looked a lot different to him from the way they had when he was a fit and strong 65 year old. Sadly, he never really explained to us what those differences were.
I think we were confused about Dad’s needs, because he was confused. Without honest discussion about the future with people he could trust, I’m sure it was harder for him to clarify for himself what his goals for his life at 85 and 90 might be. I know he wanted to protect us from painful thoughts about his eventual demise. But this resulted in even more pain for all of us when we did not know how best to support him as he struggled toward death at the very end.
We talked this over while the whole family was together after Dad’s Memorial Service. And then at our first family meeting last spring, we decided to gather again each year on May 1. This year May 1 came and went without a meeting. But we were working on it.
Eventually, we were all able to agree on next Sunday afternoon. Like last year, some of us will gather in person in our sun room and others will be present through the magic of Skype conference call. We’ll review the work we’ve each done on our Five Wishes in the intervening months and talk over the first couple of chapters of the excellent guide to Slow Medicine at the end of life My Mother,Your Mother by Dennis McCullogh, geriatrician and aging parent caregiver. At least that’s the plan.
Our friend Kari Berit discusses her interesting take on the family meeting and other caregiver issues in this video: