Learning How to Have the Big Conversations

by | Jul 9, 2023 | Article | 0 comments

Before I moved to Minnesota and started working for Honoring Choices (then Light the Legacy),
I worked for almost 5 years as a funeral director. As I moved through my twenties, a number of
my elders passed, and I found myself underwhelmed with the care I saw being offered to the
aging, dying, and grieving people in my life, myself included. What was worse was that no one
seemed to want to talk about it at all! My work as a funeral director further confirmed, almost
daily, how absent so many seem to be in the dealings of their own care and choices about their
own life and death.
People shy away from these conversations and even thinking privately about end-of-life issues
for so many understandable reasons: fear, mistrust of healthcare systems and/or doctors,
religious or cultural beliefs and norms, and more. For many of us, there is something deep
within that makes it supremely difficult to think about our own end, and the ends of those we
love. Despite my own daily work with and comfort around the death of strangers, thinking
about my own potential incapacitation and someday death took me years to really face, in any
concrete way. I encouraged many others to write down their own wishes before I had the
courage to do it myself.
One of the barriers for me in completing my own health care directive was a fear I could do it
wrong – that I could fill it out incorrectly, or more seriously, that I could somehow put a
decision in writing that would lead to my own needless suffering or death. For all I knew about
what happens to a person after they die, I realized I didn’t know too much about the ins and
outs of what happens before – like how capacity is determined, what CPR really entails, and
when intubation might happen. These mysterious processes, and maybe a fear of committing
to a decision, stopped me from signing off on my own paperwork until the day before I had a
major surgery – not the ideal time to make big decisions about my own care.
In June, I was able to take Honoring Choices’ 5-hour Advance Care Planning (ACP) Navigator
class. It was a great step for me in my personal life and career, as I come closer to finishing my
studies and beginning work as a hospice chaplain. Because of my work, I am often approached
to talk about issues like advance care planning by my friends and family. I have been hesitant to
give advice because I don’t want to provide incorrect information or influence what are
supremely personal decisions. And in my career, I know that specific questions around ACP and
health care directives will come up regularly and helping patients with their directives may even
be part of my job description.

The Navigator course, which covers the ACP process, health care directives, POLST, and
provides a conversation guide that can help one navigate ACP conversations, was thoughtful
and more helpful than I had even anticipated. Though I have been working in this field for some
time, and even work for Honoring Choices, I was surprised at how much I learned and how the
course addressed so many of my uncertainties. I feel much more prepared and confident in
having ACP conversations both personally and professionally. The most useful part of the
course for me was the opportunity to role play ACP conversations using the ACP Conversation
Guide. I don’t learn well until I do something myself, and this practice helped me see how to
better have these important conversations and relieve some of the fear around somehow doing
it wrong. For those who serve in the world of care for the aging, incapacitated, or dying, I
recommend our ACP Navigator course as a resource that can help you feel better prepared to
help your clients and communities with understanding their options, and to engage with them
in a supportive, neutral way.
Now that I have completed the class, I’m looking forward to revisiting my own directive with
the new knowledge and understanding I have. I want to make sure I am confident in my
decisions, so I can be confident in those who I am entrusting with my care. And then I want to
help others find their way to their own decisions. Would you like to join me?
Our ACP Navigator class offers 5 CEUs and is held virtually, via Zoom. If you have schedule
constraints, we also have recently launched our online learning module. The online course can
be taken whenever you like, usually takes between 1-2 hours, and offers 2 CEUs.