My father-in-law had an unexpected hospital visit last week. He is fine and life is returning to normal in their house. But it was one of those experiences where David and I really felt how far away we live from them (at the other end of the time zone) and how thankful we are for siblings who live closer and for the support of their church community. It was also a good time to talk about being proactive as a patient and on being clear about medical directives and end of life issues.
I am used to being proactive as a parent – asking questions of their teachers and child care providers, asking the pediatrician to repeat instructions (I am to mix maalox and what?), asking other parents to share their experiences. But David and I are getting to the time in our family’s life when we need to be more proactive as son and daughter. We have each had some conversations with our parents about where papers and accounts are, about what kind of funeral each wants, about do-not-resuscitate orders and when to put those directives into action. Again, some conversation but we need to get the nitty-gritty written down and stored with our important papers.
Coincidentally, last week I also received the quarterly newsletter for a hospice organization that we support. They were encouraging families to have conversations about end-of-life issues and suggesting the tools of The Conversation Project as ways to help have those difficult but so important conversations. (You may have seen the piece this fall on ABC World News that follows a multi-generational family using the tools of the Conversation Project to talk about end-of-life issues.) One question the hospice answered was “How often should you have the conversation about end-of-life?” Their suggestion was to think of the 5 Ds: death of a friend or family member, divorce has occurred in the family, diagnosis of a significant medical condition, when a decade has passed since the last talk, and when there is decline of physical condition.
Christ Church and the Episcopal Church in general strongly encourage you to have these conversations. Our teachings about death can be summed up in this sentence that is used at funerals and memorial services when the Eucharist is shared: For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens. (BCP p. 382) There is nothing to fear in death, for God waits for us; still, I have worries and concerns for my girls, for David, and for others that I would leave. So it is important to talk about the ways of dying before we begin the acute ways of dying and while we are walking our faithful journey towards that end.
Each of us needs to be active in taking care of ourselves, both our souls and bodies. Invite those you love and care for into those conversations, knowing that the Holy Spirit accompanies and supports you in those tough conversations.