Avoiding a problem is never useful.
It’s not true that avoiding a problem won’t make it go away. It WILL go away. And you’ll have no control over how it ends, and that will be entirely your fault. If you don’t talk to a loved one about their alcohol addiction, eventually it will kill them, or ruin their life, or continue to make you miserable until you leave. If you avoid thinking about how you can’t pay your rent, they will evict you and then you won’t have to pay rent anymore because you’re homeless. If you avoid dealing with those chronic headaches, it will eventually go away when that aneurysm bursts in your head and you die on the toilet.
If you avoid letting a loved one talk to you about advance directives and worst case scenarios, they’re going to exclude you from those decisions.
I have had the worst time trying to talk to my family throughout this mess. Although I am optimistic by nature, and always believed (errantly, it turns out) that it was going to end up being no big deal, I wanted to have that conversation with the ones I love. Just in case. I would very much have rather had a talk, “I am undergoing tests to find out what the problem is, it may be nothing permanent, but in case it IS, can we talk about what we’re going to do about it?” and then calmly discuss the options as theoreticals and whatifs. It’s easier to imagine making a house wheelchair accessible when you know it isn’t a certainty, because you can look at all of the angles, the practical points, without spiraling into depression because you’re picturing me in that wheelchair already.
I’d much rather tell you when it’s theoretical, than to have to have the conversation be, “I’ve been diagnosed with ALS. This is terminal, and I need to set up an advance directive, and I want to talk to you about that.” Because now you’re freaking out at me – I’ve just told you that I’m going to fucking DIE. And so instead of a theoretical situation, it’s a very real one, and now I have to tiptoe around you flipping the fuck out while I’m trying to tell you to just fucking let me die when I stop breathing on my own. Instead of a calm rational talk, I feel like I have to console you and calm you, when you should be helping me plan the end of my life.
I NEEDED TO TALK TO FAMILY ABOUT THIS SHIT TO MAKE SURE YOU FUCKERS KNOW WHAT I WANT IF THE WORST HAPPENS AND I WOULD RATHER HAVE HAD THOSE CONVERSATIONS *THEN*.
THEN, while they were theoretical and potentials. Instead of attached to a definite prognosis with a finite lifespan, because I wanted to have this conversation WITHOUT you going through your own grief at me while I’m trying to get things squared. I’m trying to tell you how I want to die and when, without having to watch you come to terms with my terminal diagnosis. I needed you to start preparing for that idea THEN, when it was “IT MIGHT HAPPEN AND I WILL NEED YOUR SUPPORT WITHOUT YOU FREAKING OUT ON ME.”
I’d rather have a talk “Hey guys, I might have ALS or something similarly deadly and terrible, so I’d like to talk about what happens if that’s true, but it might not be that at all” and deal with possibilities and still have hope, than “I have ALS, I have maybe 2 years to live. Here’s what I want.” and then have to deal with the wailing and gnashing of teeth and watching them go through the 5 stages of grief all over me.
You must be at least THIS CALM to go on this ride.
Also not helpful? Switching on Christian Mode. It’s another form of denial. “We will pray for you. God will fix this. God is more powerful than anything and he will heal you.”
Okay, but what if He doesn’t? What if, in His infinite wisdom and grace or whatever, He decides I need to die? You don’t fucking know. If all things happen for a reason, then He gave me ALS for a reason and faaaaaaiiiiirly sure it’s not just to fucking cure me of it later. So, pray for me, sure. Yes, please. But also help me plan.
“Our God is powerful and he will fix this” does not figure in to an advance directive.
“Does…she want to be resuscitated?”
“GOD WILL FIX THIS.”
“…She’s flat-lining. We kiiiiiiinda need an answer to that question right now. Does she have a DNR form?”
“SHE HAS FAITH IN THE LORD JESUS OUR SAVIOR.”
“Well, she’s about to meet Him.”
My mother – and I love her a lot – had her own brand of denial going. When I first started talking about my problems walking around and how I was starting to get medical help for it, she steered the conversation towards ANYTHING else. And when we started to narrow things down, I wasn’t allowed to admit out loud to her that it was possibly ALS:
there are always cons. So they haven’t ruled out ALS yet? What’s wrong with them?????
oh no, it’s still like a 50/50 chance that it IS ALS.
still VERY much on the table
well, it’s NOT.
…And then later in that conversation she told me she was jealous of my medical problem because at least nothing HURT, which is more than she could say for herself.
…I don’t think she’s jealous anymore.
My mom’s not the only one, of course. I’ve been forbidden to die by more people than I can count. “You’re not allowed.” Which, ha ha, yeah it’s cute, but when I’m trying to tell you HEY I AM NOT GOING TO BE AROUND FOR A LONG TIME LIKE WE THOUGHT SO CAN WE THINK ABOUT WHAT NEXT? I need you to have that conversation with me.
The moral of the story is this. It’s an all-purpose statement. When someone you love is going through some serious shit and they are trying to talk to you about it – if you love them, you OWE IT TO THEM TO LET THEM TALK. And you owe it to yourself to participate in that conversation.
Because if you don’t participate in the conversation, you forfeit the right to participate in the decisions.