I just returned from Minneapolis from a family visit. Now that my mother is getting a little older and experiencing more health issues, my brothers and I felt it important to have a family meeting, one where we could methodically talk through a host of items to learn my mom's preferences and assign action plans to everyone.
As I've told people about this event, they have shared their own family conversation stories. Some have suggested that I write an article about the process, so here it is. If my story can encourage communication with a loved one about their current needs (or yours), as well as end-of-life preferences then, ideally, a smoother path can be paved.
First, a little back story: Mom has been hospitalized three times in the last year, however, there isn't a reason to think that she may not live another 20 years. When I first brought up the idea of the meeting and its topics, I was surprised to learn that she was "thrilled to go there" and had a lot to offer.
Every agenda will differ a bit, depending on its circumstances. One tip: Leave the allotted time for the meeting open-ended, as there is no rule that everything must be decided on or talked about in one session. Our conversation took three hours and different items led to new questions and topics. It was important to go slow and allow everyone to add input.
Our agenda items included:
Current needs : We found that this topic ran the gamut: refresher on her tech devices, finding a new doctor, making duplicate keys, fixing her hearing aid, running unneeded items to Goodwill and the need to call an electrician.
Review of estate planning documents: In this case, our mom was open with all of us. However, this isn't always true. We did determine there were a few updates needed.
Wishes for obituary, funeral, memorial service, burial/cremation: Learning her preferences is sure to alleviate issues in the future.
Medications and health: This was important to gain a current understanding and also to talk about the right level of support.
When health or age means it's time for a new home: What is wanted and needed in the next home?
Incapacity planning and bill paying : Would we know what to do? What is owed to whom and would it make sense to be on auto-pay?
Action items: We concluded by giving each person a list of items they are responsible for doing and/or researching before reporting back to the group.
Whether the impetus of the conversation is begun by a loved one that cares about the wishes of another or by the person who wants to communicate their own wishes, I recommend a resource called The Conversation Starter. It is a document that leads a person or a family through the process, step-by-step. If you would like one, just email me and I'll be happy to send.
Remember, be patient. Provide a safe environment for communication, because often times the first step is just to listen.