Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: A deep dinnertime conversation about life and death

I’ve attended some wonderful events in my nearly 20 years in the health insurance business, but I have never experienced anything quite like the one held the evening of April 16, which was National Healthcare Decisions Day. To observe this important day, I hosted a small dinner party to talk about something that’s usually avoided in our day-to day-conversations — long term health care needs.

When I sent out the dinner invitations, I wasn’t sure how people would react. But my guests were both curious and adventurous; everyone rose to the challenge of thinking about some of the biggest questions most of us will ever face — whether for ourselves or for those we care deeply about. We discussed many things, including what mattered most to us if we were diagnosed with a serious illness. The conversation was surprisingly candid. People who didn’t know each other very well before the meal were sharing personal and emotional insights by the end of the first course. The conversation often focused on what matters most right now — our families and our community.

In a national survey, nearly two-in-three Americans (63 percent) said that they’ve had a personal or family experience with palliative care, end-of-life care, or hospice care. However, only half say they were prepared for that experience. Now is the time to think about — and share — what matters most to you if you fall seriously ill. If you are too sick or injured to speak for yourself, will your family know exactly what you want? While the conversations can be uncomfortable to initiate, the shared understanding of wishes, values and preferences is a gift for everyone.

I know this to be true based on my personal experience. A little over a year ago, I attended a Conversation Project workshop, and it led me to a better understanding of how to have a conversation with my parents on what was important to them. Based on that conversation and offering to help them continue to have the quality of life that they wanted, they took me up on my offer to move to be closer to us where we can help. Because of my own personal experience, I wanted to start having the conversation with key leaders in our community. It turned out to be a very moving evening.

The most important thing I took away from the experience is that we, as a community, can come together and talk about our hopes, fears, concerns and plans for our health care through all stages of life. And talking leads to action, so I’m hopeful that more and more people consider documenting their wishes and sharing them with family and loved ones.

Filling out an advance directive, which is a legal document that captures your preferences about end-of-life care, will help ensure that your wishes are clearly understood if you are unable to communicate that information on your own. There are many helpful resources, including a program called The Conversation Project. Additional local help is available from the Idaho Quality of Life Coalition, which just received an $82,000 grant from Cambia Health Foundation, the charitable foundation of Regence BlueShield of Idaho. The coalition will use the funds to educate rural Idaho residents about advance care planning.

At the end of the night, I reflected on how thankful I am that we’re starting to talk about illness and even death in a healthy and open manner. I encourage you to take some time to think about what’s important to you and share that information with your loved ones.

Note: Idaho Statesman Publisher Mike Jung attended the dinner. Jung’s experience at the meal prompted him to ask Scott Kreiling to write this guest opinion.