Our Conversation of Your Life (COYL) program has historically relied on the power of our in-person community gatherings at libraries, community centers, places of worship, and other meeting spots. People came together to learn about and discuss end-of-life care options — and how to create and share their wishes through advance directives. These in-person conversations were so valuable to easing people through these often-difficult topics.
Then COVID-19 took away our ability to gather at the very moment these conversations became even more important.
But the global pandemic has not stopped our COYL task forces across New Jersey. Our team and COYL volunteers immediately implemented creative ways to keep the conversation going. We created a one-page document, “Advance Care Planning: Preparing for the Unexpected,” to guide people on how to record and share their wishes, as well as how to select someone to speak for them if they could no longer speak for themselves. We put these valuable resources and other COYL materials on our website, which include games, movies, books, and virtual forms to complete your advance directive.
We’re now asking you, our members, to help share these materials with your organizations and to consider getting more involved. We’re seeking new Co-Chairs for task forces in several counties and we’re eager for new partners to join us.
Our volunteers and our team members are now connecting with New Jersey residents over phone, video, email, text, and video platforms. COYL and our partner organizations such as Bevival, Goals of Care, Holy Name Hospital, and others are now leading webinars for residents, long term care facilities, and providers to further educate people on advance directives as well as the NJ POLST (Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment).
Our webinars have been key and they are now all available on our website. You can tune in to watch anytime. A grant from the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey enables us to regularly develop new COYL content. Our most recent webinar focused on veterans and their families. The program, “Having the Conversation: The Heart of the Veteran and Advance Care Planning,” is available here and the speakers are a palliative care nurse and a retired U.S. Army colonel.
For veterans, conversations about advance care planning can be especially challenging and may be colored by their military experiences. The dying process can trigger trauma and reignite post-traumatic stress. Some veterans are especially stoic and perhaps uncomfortable discussing their preferences and feelings. One of our team members recently told me that when she talked with her father about his advance directive he told her, for the first time, about men on the battlefield during the Korean War who endured horrifying injuries without morphine. There was not enough of the painkiller to go around. It was the first she heard of this, and she promised her father she would make sure he received the pain management he needed.
We’ve worked with veterans previously. Before COVID-19, we held several events for VFW and American Legion members, a veterans’ advisory council, and a veterans’ group at an assisted living facility. COYL continues to create programming geared to our veterans’ unique experiences.
As I mentioned earlier, you can help by:
Sharing COYL resources like the COYL webinar recordings and our one-pager on having virtual conversations.
Get your organization involved. Join a COYL task force yourself or tag a team member or a friend. Check out the COYL Toolkit, which has step-by-step directions on how you can help communities start the conversation.
Lastly, feel free to reach out if we can help support your community or organization. Whether training providers or providing crucial education to residents and their loved ones, our COYL team is here for you.