Discussing end of life wishes feels uncomfortable at best, but these conversations are crucial to ensure your wants are honored during this meaningful and transformational time. Because this is a pressing question for many of our clients, we’d like to offer some advice for starting the conversation as well as some guidance regarding what to discuss when you get there.
Breaking the ice
The sooner you consider your end of life wishes, the better. You might find that your loved ones are most receptive when they feel they have plenty of time left with you or that they’re discussing something well in advance. You can start the conversation by saying, “I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I want things to go as I get older. I think I have a pretty good idea of what I want, and I trust you. Can I share my wishes with you?”
If the tables are turned and you’re trying to learn more about what a loved one’s wishes are so you can advocate for them, you might say something like this: “I think we have a lot of time left together, which makes me happy. But I’ve just been thinking – now would be a good time to talk about your end of life wishes so I can advocate for you even if you can’t communicate the way you can now. Can I ask you some questions?”
Expect an emotional response; it’s an emotional discussion.
What to discuss
We often hear, “Oh, we talked about so much but we didn’t talk about this!” Not knowing your loved one’s wishes can cause turmoil during an already challenging time in your life and theirs. Here are some of the most important things to discuss:
- How do you envision your last moments? Is there music playing? Are you alone or surrounded by loved ones? Are you at home, in the hospital, or somewhere else? Is a member of the clergy present?
- How should your family be notified that you are nearing the end? How should they be notified that you’ve passed?
- Who should make major medical decisions? What factors might change that?
- Which interventions do you want at end of life?
- What are your top priorities during end of life? Being pain-free? Pursuing all possible treatments?
- How do you envision your memorial service? What are your wishes for your remains?