More conversations – Less suffering

Surely a goal worth pursuing?

by Helena Dolny

A handsome set of valises stood there splendidly – the gift her mother chose for her dying husband’s birthday. Their presence, for her mother, defiantly symbolising her hope that the advancing cancer might be stopped in its tracks. For their daughter, Ellen, reflecting years later, was this the epitome of American denialism of death. At a very personal level it denied all of them the possibility of conversation. The assertion that “we’re going to beat this” closes conversation about the “what if”. It takes away the chance to have the conversations, ‘what do we need to do to be ready for that impending inevitability”.

Years later, Ellen found herself to be the decision-maker for her mother whose dementia incapacitated her. “What would my mother have wanted?” Ellen found herself asking questions that she did not have the answer to. She reminisced about how close they were. How many things they had talked about. But never, “what would be her wishes as dementia advanced?”

The Conversation Project

These deeply personal experiences propelled Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Ellen Goodman into using her advocacy and organising talents to identify other like-minded people. Ellen went on to to co-found The Conversation Project, which aims to support ordinary people grappling with end-of-life discussions.

One of the by-lines of The Conversation Project is, “It’s always too soon, and then it is too late.”

There are SO MANY conversations to have. If you have downloaded the Purple File, completed the forms and assembled the documents, you will have noticed a list of all the conversations you need to have. These include conversations with the person/persons who you want to:

  • take on the responsibility of being your Health Care Proxy
  • be the Executor of your will
  • look after my pets once you have died
  • trust inform clients and service providers that you have died.

Limiting Assumptions

So often our thinking is riddled with LIMITING ASSUMPTIONS that hold us back when there’s a GOAL that we want to achieve. For example “I want to talk with my mother about her advancing frailty and what support can work for both of us if she is to stay in her own home? OR, “I want to talk with my husband about my specific wishes as to what is to happen to my body once I’ve taken my last breath.”

It is important to remain focused on the GOAL. Often when there’s a goal we have in mind and we find ourselves slow to find a way to advance it, it’s because there are LIMITING ASSUMPTIONS holding us back.

Nancy Kline, founder and president of Time To Think, offers a framework for how we can create a Thinking Environment for holding conversations that enable us to think independently for ourselves. Moreover, once you’ve named that goal you want to pursue, she asks, “What are you assuming that stopping you from achieving that goal?

In Before Forever After – when Conversations about Living meet Questions about Dying, I wrote, “We suffer when loved ones die. We suffer even more when certain conversations didn’t happen.”

More conversations – Less suffering. Surely a goal worth pursuing?