So, you know that it’s never too soon to talk about end-of-life wishes with your loved ones, and you’re ready to do it. But when? How?
The holidays can actually be the perfect time and place to start. The conversation is not always easy to do over the phone or by email, so why not embrace the opportunity to connect with your loved ones and advocates in person, during holiday get-togethers and celebrations?
That conversation can focus on your own wishes, the wishes of a loved one or both! And because the holidays are a time when we’re all focused on and celebrating our shared values, traditions and memories, the discussion really is more about honoring those, and empowering everyone to have a say in how the final days and moments are carried out.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to make it a positive, effective and even enjoyable process.
Focus on laying the groundwork.
You don’t have to finish the entire conversation over turkey or gifts. But when you have the attention of everyone (or just the one person you feel most comfortable starting with), ask if you can bring up an important topic and then, keep it short and to the point.
If you get a great reaction, you can dive in! If you get some resistance, you can move on to another topic, knowing that at least you have broken the ice and will be able to follow up at another time.
Print the free materials from TheConversationProject.org.
The last thing you want to do is make the person you’re speaking with feel like he or she is getting a lecture, but if you have some basic materials prepared, you can share them as you start the conversation, and leave them with your loved one so that you can both use them to take the next steps.
The Starter Kit is a series of gentle but leading questions like:
- Now finish this sentence: What matters to me at the end of life is… (For example, being able to recognize my children; being in the hospital with excellent nursing care; being able to say goodbye to the ones I love.)
- When it comes to sharing information, on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being “I don’t want my loved ones to know everything about my health” and 5 being “I am comfortable with those close to me knowing everything about my health,” where do you stand?
- What do you feel are the three most important things that you want your friends, family, and/or doctors to understand about your wishes and preferences for end-of-life care?
It’s not a series of medical directives or paperwork to file. It’s just a way to get the important discussion started.
And if you’d like, you can print and fill out the starter kit ahead of time, so you don’t have to struggle with what to say, or to break the ice. You may want to talk with someone else about his or her wishes, but you can use your own answers as an example, and then share a blank copy with the other person.
Watch and learn.
ABC World News went inside one family’s conversation, to see how one daughter spoke with her 85-year-old father about his end-of-life wishes. It truly became an act of love (and watch as the grandson speaks up about his wishes, inspired by his grandfather’s honesty and candor).
Keep it positive.
Emphasize that it’s about living through the end of a wonderful life, not the scary or dire circumstances that may be ahead.
The conversation is about respect, and honoring what a loved one wants in his or her final moments, not about dwelling on our own morbidity or sadness.
Engage all ages.
Multi-generation conversations can often be easier, and it’s important that everyone in the family feels open to sharing his or her wishes. None of us knows when we’ll be faced with an emergency in our own lives or in the life of a loved one, and it really is never too soon to prepare.