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Initiating End of Life Conversations with Loved Ones

Death is an inevitable part of life, yet it tends to bring up fear and avoidance in most people.

Despite the difficult nature of the subject, openly discussing death allows for end-of-life arrangements to easily be made, which can prevent issues down the road.

You may feel that you need to have this conversation with a loved one but don’t know how to do it.

So, let’s discuss some helpful tips to steer your talk into a loving, productive conversation.

Benefits of the Conversation

It is often our tendency to put off discussions that we don’t want to have, but this is important and benefits both you and your loved one.

We tend to think that talking about death will depress our loved one, causing them anxiety over their mortality.

According to the American Journal of Nursing, however, studies show that terminal patients who had previously discussed end-of-care arrangements had a better quality of life.

Additionally, you will be relieved from the burden of making tough decisions regarding your loved one’s care, knowing that their own choices have been personally made from the start. Your loved one can voice their preferences regarding their care, and you can ensure that their needs are met.

How to Start the Conversation

Now you know that you need to have this conversation and the benefit of it, but how do you even get started?

Have the conversation as soon as possible, rather than waiting until they are already ill or facing care decisions.

TriHealth suggests taking advantage of natural timing opportunities like the death or terminal diagnosis of a family member, and they also suggest to start the dialogue by acknowledging that your loved one is healthy right now.

If your loved one has Alzheimer’s, this is likely to have additional challenges. Be patient with them, and be prepared to answer their same questions several times.

Make a plan for your conversation, knowing that it may take several attempts to complete it.

Important Things to Discuss

When planning your end of life conversation, it’s important to know what areas need to be discussed and decided.

If they already have a will drawn up, they have likely assigned their assets and assigned an executor to carry out their wishes.

Medical decisions are especially important to discuss. Is there a point where life-saving measures cease and palliative care begins? Where do they want to live out their final days? Do they want to be resuscitated if they stop breathing?

These are all important decisions, and allowing your loved one to make it for themselves ensures that you are able to carry out their choices for them in these situations.

Properly Document the Decisions

Once your loved one has expressed their care decisions, it’s important to get it in writing.

There are several documents that you can draw up to handle end of life arrangements.

While it may seem redundant to fill out the same wishes across several forms, it will help ensure that their wishes are expressed thoroughly and carried out properly.

For example, if their wish is not to resuscitate, it needs to be visibly posted in order for a medical professional to know about it and treat accordingly.

There are even medical bracelets that can be made to display pertinent medical information like a DNR to inform emergency personnel.

Having this important conversation can mean the difference between your loved one experiencing a “good death” and watching them suffer through their final days.

Choose the right time, speak kindly and carefully, and respect whatever decision they choose.

Ultimately, the goal is for them to have control over their own end-of-life care, relieving you of the burden of having to decide for them.