Regardless of how close you are with your loved one, there may be one subject you haven’t covered: the end-of-life conversation, also known as conversations of a lifetime. If that’s the case, you’re not alone. It’s uncomfortable. Who wants to discuss death?
In reality, however, “an accident can happen to anyone at any time,” explains Janet Montgomery, Chief Marketing Officer at Hospice of Cincinnati.
In other words, it's never too early to start.
Why are Conversations of a Lifetime so Important?
Our health care system is designed to treat in the absence of a clear decision or voice from the family, which means the system will offer an individual everything it has to offer, like extending one's life via a ventilator, for example, whether that's what the patient truly wants, Janet says.
So it's important to know if your loved one would want every treatment possible, until his or her last breath.
3 Ways to Start the Conversation the End-of-Life Conversation
#1: Recognize when Natural Opportunities Present Themselves
Timing never seems right, but as a general rule, it’s good to start the discussion during the following times (also known as “The Five Ds”):
- Death of a friend or family member
- Divorce in the family
- Diagnosis of a significant medical condition
- Decade since the last talk
- Decline of physical condition
#2: Start by Acknowledging that He or She is Healthy Now
As long as you haven’t waited until your loved one is on the verge of hospice care or death, it’s always good to start a conversation by reminding your loved one that he or she is in good health, but that you’d like to plan for the future, says Barb Rose, Project Grant Administrator at Hospice.
“You can say something like, ‘It’s important for me to know what your wishes are if you get sick or if you’re in a health decline. Let’s talk about it now, so if there’s a point in the future where you can’t talk for yourself, I would know what’s important to you,’” Barb adds.
#3: Remember: Your Loved One Likely Doesn’t Want You to Feel Burdened with Tough Decisions
Most people wouldn’t want their loved ones feeling forced to make every end-of-life decision for them. Maybe they’ve even experienced the stress of having to do so themselves. So keep that in mind and remind your loved one you simply want to honor his or her end-of-life wishes.
How Should You Document a Loved One’s End-of-Life Care Wishes?
Once you have a conversation with your loved one, it’s important to document his or her wishes. “You talk about it (end-of-life wishes) with the person who’s going to be your proxy or your surrogate and then you document it. It’s important that the people you have chosen to speak for you know what you want,” Janet says. “It’s a gift for you to have this documentation done.”
From there, share it with anyone who may need the information, such as:
- A spouse or partner
- Designated proxy or proxies
- Brothers and sisters
- Close friends
- Physicians and other health care providers
- Pastor, priest, rabbi or other faith leader
- Other caregivers
Then, in a clearly marked file, place the documentation in a safe place, like:
- In your safe or safe deposit box
- In the refrigerator in a clearly marked tube or envelope