Necessary Conversations for Transition Planning

Life is full of transitional moments that can range from anything as exciting as holding a grandchild for the first time or going on a vacation to celebrate retirement. While these events are often met with warm smiles, other transitions may involve mixed feelings, confusion, or fear. An unexpected hip surgery or the loss of a loved one, however, requires planning just as much as other events that have more positive associations. And when plans need to be made, consider conversation the spark that can ignite action and inspire others to follow through on their plans.

Of course, it’s often easy to have a conversation surrounding an exciting life transition. But when life transitions arise that involve feared or unanticipated events, discussion may become more difficult. If you find yourself grappling for words in these moments, it’s likely that you’re not alone. Your friends and family members probably also find conversation challenging at these times. Instead of shying away from having a necessary talk, take some time to anticipate transitional moments before they occur, plan conversations in advance, and use tools and resources that can help guide you through an essential conversation.

Anticipate Transitional Moments

Embrace the idea that life is in a constant state of flux. With this mindset, having a planning conversation becomes a part of your positive stance as a future-thinking person. When you’re already considering possible life changes, talking about change can become a part of your everyday language rather than an abrupt reaction to an unanticipated event.

So what are some transitional moments you need to anticipate as you age or as you care for an elder? Events ranging from accidents and illness to permanent disability and death qualify as those that necessitate planning conversations. Take time to consider the possibilities that could result from any of these events, and make plans for financial, logistical, and emotional impacts on immediate family members as well as on the others who could be affected.

Life-altering events can potentially occur at any time or at any age, so instead of avoiding conversation on these topics, anticipate the possibility of them occurring so that planning conversations can be facilitated from a proactive rather than a reactive standpoint.

Advice for Necessary Conversations

Now that you’ve embraced the idea of having an planning conversation, how do you actually go about doing it? Here are a few tips for approaching a loved one to discuss both planned and unplanned transitions:

  • Invite the other person to talk with you in a private location.
  • Be open and honest about the topic of the conversation and about your reasons for wanting to meet.
  • Begin the conversation by sharing your desire to respect the other person’s dignity and opinions both now and in the future.
  • Ask permission from the other person to continue in the conversation, and give him or her the space to share personal concerns, ideas, and plans that may already be in place.
  • Be a good listener, and utilize active listening strategies including taking notes or using body language such as nodding in agreement to show that you’re invested in the conversation.
  • Be patient, and allow the other person additional time to think before responding.
  • Be aware that you may face resistance the first time you introduce the topic of transition planning. If your efforts are met with resistance, do not become discouraged. Instead, reinforce your respect and love for the other person, and plan to bring up the topic at another time.
  • Leave open the possibility for follow-up conversations and meetings, but schedule a next meeting before the end of the current one.

Transitional Planning: Tools and Resources

Tools and resources including books, websites, and other people can be a great help when preparing for a transition planning conversation. While friends, neighbors, and co-workers can offer emotional and physical support, health care providers and trained medical professionals are the most important people to consult when you need details about health care options as well as practical how-to advice.

Sometimes it’s helpful to have a conversation facilitator, a person who’s trained in helping others have productive conversations. The Essential Conversations Project¨ provides neutral facilitators who have experience guiding an essential conversation in an objective and caring way. The Essential Conversations Project¨ website allows you to search for facilitators in your area, and it also has a tab full of resources including articles and videos.

Another good place to look for resources is the national non-profit organization Aging With Dignity, which offers both print and online resources to help facilitate dialogue surrounding planned transitions as well as end of life conversations. With Mother Teresa as its inspirational founder, Aging With Dignity has developed a resource called Five Wishes that helps facilitate transition and end of life planning based on having loved ones share five key wishes.

Five Wishes provides the framework for people to share who they want to make health care decisions when they can’t; what kind of medical care they want or don’t want; how comfortable they want to be; how they want to be treated; and what they want their loved ones to know. Five Wishes documentation is easily accessible, inexpensive to download from the Aging With Dignity website, and it meets the legal requirements for an advance directive in 42 states, including Colorado.

A related resource called the Go Wish card activity is designed as a conversation starter for those who would like to talk about what is important in moments of both planned and unplanned illnesses, accidents, or death. The activity involves using cards that express elements of Five Wishes to help people determine their priorities and preferences.

While expert advice, tools, and resources can all be helpful in facilitating a conversation once it’s underway, don’t discount your own courageous role in being the conversation starter. Taking a proactive stance now will give you the best opportunity to have a respectful, loving, and productive conversation with results that can resonate far into the future.

IPC/Senior Care of Colorado

Resources Mentioned:
Essential Conversations Project

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