Guest Column: A conversation worth having

By Christine Werneke


Imagine you learn today that your mother has just suffered a serious stroke and is in the hospital.  Then imagine that you are now being asked to make decisions about her medical care. You just had lunch with her last week and she seemed so healthy.

Most of us would find that we are unprepared to face the decisions in front of us, much less handle the emotional tsunami that comes with a serious diagnosis.

The Visiting Nurses Association’s Hospice team is trained and experienced in guiding families through these situations. However, too often families struggle during the last few days of a loved one’s life. That is why the VNA and its sister non-profit home health and hospice agencies have launched an initiative to encourage families to talk about their end-of-life wishes before a health crisis or serious diagnosis.

“Start the Conversation” aims to educate people on the end-of-life care choices available—specifically hospice and palliative care. It also provides tools and resources to help families talk about this topic with each other and with their physician. Worksheets, conversation starters, and questionnaires help you explore what care options and choices may be considered.

The VNA is also partnering with Vermont Ethics Network to bring guidance and support on completing an advance directive. Advance directives are the legal documents that define your wishes for medical care. They may also name your health care agent, the person who will make decisions for you if you are unable to speak for yourself.

The most common feedback our hospice programs hear from families is, “We wish we had known about Hospice care earlier.” Knowing your options is an important first step.

Join the VNA on June 19 at The Lodges at Shelburne Bay to learn more about specialized care options for the terminally ill and get a “Start the Conversation” kit to help you begin talking about this with your family. The one hour free workshop begins at 6:30 PM and open is to the public.

Now imagine again the phone rings. It is your Mom calling to meet you for lunch. Take the time to have the conversation and visit for help and free resources.


Christine Werneke is the director of business development and marketing of the Visiting Nurse Association of Chittenden and Grand Isle Counties.