How to Have a Conversation About End-of-Life
For understandable reasons, a lot of us put off conversations about the end of life. While this might seem the most comfortable way forward, it can ultimately create hardship for those left behind. More importantly, it isn’t as uncomfortable as it might at first seem.
Why we need the conversation
Dying is a universal experience. It doesn’t just happen to every single human being, but it also happens to every animal and plant and organism on our planet. We may avoid talking about it, but the reality is that few of us will succeed in never thinking about it: and refusing to discuss the issue only makes it harder in the end.
When children first learn about death, they have refreshingly direct questions. What happens to you? Does it hurt? Won’t everyone be sad? We as adults need to have the courage to face end of life questions with the same honesty as our children do.
What good does this conversation do?
Talking together is good for us all, and communicating our deepest feelings, fears, and desires bring us closer together. It is also important to us that we have control. One of the great fears as we approach the end of life is that we will lose that control: having a conversation about it all in advance is a way to exercise control and keep it to the very end.
End-of-life conversations also give us a chance to communicate love. At times, people are taken very suddenly and have no opportunity to tell the family how much they love them. An end of life conversation means everyone always has a memory of love to hold on to.
Finally, end of life conversations assures older family members that things will be done in the way they wish while relieving the younger family of the burden of making decisions at an emotionally difficult time.
What should we talk about?
Of course, these conversations should cover logistics. Funeral services like Heritage Cremation Provider know how important it is that families have a plan for whether to choose cremation or burial, how to honor loved ones in a fitting and personal way, and how to discuss the issue with children. There are also issues to discuss like bequests, what to do with the property, and how to care for those left behind.
It’s also important to discuss medical issues. If a medical problem arises, it may come very quickly. The family should know in advance what their loved one wants. As a patient, what will they want to know? If they have a terminal illness, what would they prefer? As they are treated by medical professionals, how much say do they want?
But in addition to all these logistical issues, end-of-life discussions should also respect feelings, fears, and desires. This should be an open time where people can discuss how they really feel about death and be entirely honest. It should be a safe space for expressing the deepest feelings of the heart.
What can I do to facilitate this conversation?
It’s one thing to decide to have the conversation: it’s another to actually think of what to say when the moment comes. Here are some questions that can help keep the discussion going:
- When you think about the end of your life, what’s the most important thing to you?
- Do you want to be actively involved in decisions about your medical care, or do you prefer for doctors to do what they think is best?
- How much do you want your family involved?
- What are your concerns about medical treatment?
- Where do you hope to be during your last days?
- Are there any treatments you know you definitely don’t want?
- Are there any family disagreements you’d like to get worked out?
Remember that you don’t have to talk about everything in one moment. This can be an ongoing conversation. The most important thing is that you all be on the same page about what’s most important to everyone.