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Conversations That Matter – Part I

I was a freshman in college when I truly realized how families can differ when talking about things that matter most. I had naively assumed most other families put it all out on the dinner table, like my loud Italian family who aired all joys, grievances and everything in between, over heaping plates of pasta and meatballs. But a weekend trip to Long Island to visit the families of my roommate and another new friend’s opened my eyes to another world of communication, or lack thereof. At my roommate’s Georgian colonial we dined on generous portions of beef tenderloin but the conversation was uncomfortably guarded and superficial. I had been cautioned by my roommate beforehand not to relay any of the funny stories I shared at my family visit the night before. At my other friend’s modest rancher, we shared a tiny roast beef and were allowed to take part in their happy hour(s) but the discussion steered away from substance and concentrated on jokes.

My college days are long gone, but I never forgot how my friends interacted with their families and how, unlike me, they didn’t feel comfortable talking to their parents about boys, grades or alcohol, at the time. And I have come to understand that as we age, the topics that need to be discussed with our loved ones become even more difficult to bring up but are critical conversations for all involved.

I have been researching the highly emotional topic of starting a conversation or talking with our relatives about end of life decisions.  I didn’t feel comfortable passing on the do’s and don’ts and statistics gleaned from other writers at AARP or The New York Times New Old Age blog so I thought I would start by interviewing a friend of mine who has both professional and personal experience with this topic. Betty has worked as a registered nurse for 45 years and has hands-on experience in oncology and hospice care. Recently, she sat at down at my kitchen table to share an insider’s view of what really happens when a loved one is critically ill and why relatives of that loved one absolutely need to be informed.

Next week I will bring you this valuable information and ask you to share your opinions and reflections as well. It is my hope that we can tackle this  “I don’t want to think about it” process together with the assistance of a few caring, knowing people who may make it easier for all of us

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