The Hardest Conversation: Discussing End-of-Life Decisions With a Loved One
We’re naturally predisposed to put off thinking about the inevitable as long as possible, but when someone we care for is dying, there are arrangements that need to be made and final wishes that must be honored. No one likes discussing end-of-life arrangements no matter their age, but unless you understand a loved one’s wishes, you could mistake their intentions and overlook something important, complicating things at a very bad time.
When a family member is nearing death, emotions tend to run high, old resentments and suspicions among family members may come out, and it may be difficult for a mortally ill individual to even communicate. The sooner you can discuss end-of-life arrangements, the more likely you are to head off such problems.
Quality of life
There are many factors to be considered, such as the burden of care to be placed on others, how important it is for your loved one to remain at home, what medical procedures aren’t worth enduring, and how to handle pain management. Then, there are funeral arrangements to be made and the disposition of one’s remains to be settled. Of course, these are uncomfortable points for anyone to discuss. Finding the right time and venue can make the difference between a productive and frank discussion, and one that’s overcome with emotion and gets you nowhere.
When and how to have the talk
Always bear in mind that no one should be forced to have this conversation. It takes some people longer to accept the reality of their situation and the necessity of making their final wishes understood. The best-case scenario is for your relative to broach the subject themselves. In some cases, a person facing death may gauge another’s willingness to discuss the situation by asking questions like, “Do you think there’s life after death?” This can be a good way to ease into the subject in a comfortable manner.
If you need to raise the subject yourself, one common ice-breaker is to ask who your loved one would want to contact if they become seriously ill. It’s a way of saying you understand the seriousness of their condition, have come to terms with it and are comfortable discussing the situation. It’s a tactful approach, because you leave it up to them to choose whether they want to respond in kind.
If your loved one is in the hospital or undergoing hospice care, discuss with a nurse how to approach the situation and for advice based on their experience with end-of-life patients. Your siblings should be involved in the conversation if a parent is facing death, and you may want to involve a caregiver, especially if the caregiver is a relative or someone in whom your loved one has a great deal of faith.
One of the most caring and considerate things you can do for someone who’s nearing death is to be a very good listener. Don’t interject your own views concerning death and its aftermath, especially if they contradict your loved one’s feelings on the matter. Just listen. Let them talk freely. It’s a therapeutic way of unburdening themselves of fears and uncertainties. Be honest and straightforward. Don’t patronize, and don’t worry about saying profound things or being funny or clever. It’s a time for listening, first and foremost.
If it doesn’t go well …
Don’t be surprised if the conversation doesn’t go as planned. After all, it’s a subject fraught with tremendous emotional power, and it doesn’t take much for someone to become overwhelmed as the reality of the situation hits home. Be prepared to try again at a later date after everyone has come to terms with the subject and are in a better emotional condition.
It’s always hard to discuss arrangements that need to be made when a loved one is nearing death. Some people struggle with the finality of it - after all, you’re talking about the death of someone you care about deeply. That may include some touchy subjects, such as whether they want to be revived, what to do with their belongings, if they want to be buried or cremated, and so on. If possible, let your relative set the tone and let you know when they’re ready to have the conversation.
Courtesy of: Beverly Nelson, firstname.lastname@example.org
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