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How To Start The Conversation

It is never too early to start thinking about these issues. Have regular discussions about your views on end-of-life care, since they may change over time. You may find that you have questions for your parents about their end-of-life care. Or you may be struggling with these questions for your spouse or partner, or even yourself.

Helpful pointers for having this conversation:

1. Know your options

Before beginning the discussion, learn about end-of- life care services available in your community. Become familiar with what each option offers so you can decide which ones meet your loved one or your own, end-of-life care needs and wants.

2. Select an Appropriate Setting

Plan for the conversation. Find a quiet, comfortable place that is free from distractions to hold a one-on-one discussion or family meeting. Usually, a private setting is best.

3. Ask Permission

People cope with end-of-life care issues in many ways. Asking permission to discuss this topic assures your loved one that you will respect and honor his or her wishes. Some ways of asking permission are:

  • I’d like to talk about the best way someone might care for you if you got really sick. Is that okay?
  • If you ever got sick, I would be afraid of not knowing the kind of care you would like. Could we talk about this now? I’d feel better if we did.
  • I want to share my wishes about how I’d like to be cared for in the event I was sick or injured; can we do that now?

Another method of starting the conversation is to share an article, magazine, or story about the topic with your loved one. Even watching a TV show or movie on the topic together can encourage the conversation. If you think your loved one would be more comfortable with someone else, you can suggest they talk to another family member, a friend or faith leader.

Decide what you want for your own end-of-life care.

4. Start the Conversation

Keep in mind that you started this conversation because you care about your loved one’s wellbeing — especially during difficult times. Allow your loved one to set the pace. Nodding your head in agreement, holding your loved one hand, and reaching out to offer a hug or comforting touch are ways that you can show your love and concern. Understand that it is normal for your loved ones to avoid this discussion. Don’t be surprised or upset; instead, plan to try again at another time.

Questions to ask your loved one about his or her end-of-life care:

  • How would you like your choices honored at the end of life?
  • Would you like to spend your final days at home or in a home-like setting?
  • Do you think it’s important to have medical attention and pain control to fit your needs?
  • Is it important for you — and your family — to have emotional and spiritual support?

If your loved one responds “yes” in answer to these questions, he or she may want the end-of-life care that hospice provides.

5. Be a Good Listener

Keep in mind that this is a conversation, not a debate. Sometimes just having someone to talk to is a big help. Be sure to make an effort to hear and understand what the person is saying. These moments, although difficult, are important and special to both of you.

Some important considerations:

  • Listen for the wants and needs your loved one expresses.
  • Make clear that what your loved one is sharing with you is important.
  • Show empathy and respect by addressing these wants and needs in a truthful and open way.
  • Acknowledge your loved one right to make life choices — even if you do not agree with them.

Your End-of-Life Wishes

If you — or those you love — are struggling to cope with a life-limiting illness, help is available through hospice. Hospice programs provide quality care focusing on comfort and dignity for persons who are ill, and their loved ones.

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