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Interfaith and Diversity Workgroup Spotlight: Talk Early, Talk Often

I’ve been in ministry for over 33 years. As a local pastor, I frequently get frantic phone calls from people after an aging parent has had a crisis.  Most often, the person calling says some variation of, “Help, we don’t know what to do. We never talked about it.”

As a hospice chaplain, I’ve stood with many families struggling to make decisions after it was too late for conversations with their parents, leading the family’s stress or grief to intensify when forced to ask, “What do we do now?” 

For the countless families that have never had a conversation to determine how a parent would want to live, who would be responsible for their care, or how to pay for it all, family crises can quickly escalate to catastrophe. Without talking before the crisis, difficult decisions must be made when only few, and often poor, options are left.

What keeps us from having the critical conversations with our parents or loved ones about their future?

Not only is it painful to consider our loved ones ever dying, the complexity and confusion about where to start can act as a deterrent. We know vaguely about long term health care, but are often unclear about the difference between a power of attorney, a durable power of attorney for finances, and a power of attorney for health care.

We don’t know exactly what to talk about, how to keep the conversation going, or in the end, who can help us. In our congregations, for instance, we are very good at talking about “life after death”.  We just aren’t comfortable talking about how we get there.

Talk-Early-Talk-Often.com was created as a resource to help families, individuals and local congregations begin to “normalize” these conversations. There are free articles and ebooks available on the site that help people gain confidence on how and where to start. Courses, workshops, and other resources are in development to help individuals and groups “talk their way through” all the stages of caregiving, end-of-life decision making, and how to be effective partners with their professional health care providers.

Reverend Dale Susan Edmonds is the founder of Talk-Early-Talk-Often.com and has been profiled in the PBS Documentary, Consider the Conversation: a documentary on a taboo subject, as well as on NBC Nightly News and the Huffington Post.

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