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  • Having “THE” Conversation

    Posted on April 7th, 2013 Special Contributor No comments


    The longevity revolution has sparked many a new reality. One of them is the growing need for families to set up a time to engage aging parents (and themselves) in a conversation about wishes at the end for life. The advances in medical technology, coupled with the expanded life expectancy of baby boomers and their parents, have made these conversations ever more necessary. I am often asked to do on this issue, as well as on the subject of care-giving , I stress the importance of congregations having an annual session on how Judaism looks at end of life issues. This includes not only the texts that inform these discussions, but an overview of State or Provincial laws that will impact these decisions. With a growing number of states in the USA passing or considering “Death With Dignity” laws, this issue will only grow in relevance.

    April 16 has been dedicated as National HealthCare Decision Day. That week would be a perfect time to develop a program, a sermon, or convene a conversation that will raise the issue from within Jewish values and texts. This is a delicate subject to raise with our parents. Maybe even more so with our own spouse. Yet, as many of your know, having the conversation and documenting that conversation via an Advanced Directive and Health Care Power of Attorney, can reduce a significant amount of stress in moments of crises and help to alleviate potential guilt.

    Author: Rabbi Richard Address

    Congregations can be a excellent source of strength and support for families having to make these decisions. The role of the relationship developed and maintained over years, can be a foundation for a person and family feeling cared for and supported. By having the congregation initiate these conversation, it can also provide a sense of meaning to congregations who might otherwise be bereft of adequate knowledge in these areas.

    Having the conversation about one’s wishes for the final phase of life requires some time and planning.

    Make sure that the parties involved agree that they will be having this converation: no surprises! Create an environment that is supportive to this conversation. Take your time. Sometimes the conversation may go off into memories and moments that may bring tears and/or laughter. This is part of the conversation and is very important. Raise issues that we know can cause some concern; i.e. what are your wishes if the medical condition is such that there is nothing more that can be done? It is often helpful to use a template on which to base the conversation. There are numerous books and forms available from hospitals, doctor’s offices, religious groups, etc. It may be advisable to discuss one’s religious views regarding end of life care and be aware of the views of the person’s faith.It is also helpful to be familiar with local options for Palliative Care and Hospice Care. It is important to understand these terms and how they can be of benefit in certain circumstances. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the laws of your state.

    Sometimes these discussions may be met with defensiveness. Try and approach this discussion from a perspective of family unity. “We want to make sure your wishes are honored and that there is no confusion, should the case arise that decisions have to be made.” Remember that as important as an Advanced Directive may be, equally important is the Power of Attorney for Health Care. This document allows a designated care-giver to make decisions for someone if that person is unable to speak for themselves.

    And again, please remember to re-visit these documents every few years as people’s minds, life circumstances and medical technology can and will change.

    Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min is the rabbi at M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ and the founder of Jewish Sacred Aging.


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