I heard about something called the Death Café where people meet and talk about end-of-life issues. It is very much like a support group, but without a therapist or facilitator and with a focus on only one topic. It began as a means of helping people whose loved ones would not talk about “life’s final chapter” — a place where folks find others with whom to share ideas, fears and information. Granted, these are hard conversations to have.
It means addressing our own mortality and the mortality of those we love. But as we live longer and as medical technology continues to advance, these conversations become even more valuable and necessary. A national survey by The Conversation Project found that nine in 10 Americans want to discuss end-of-life care for their loved ones and themselves, but approximately three in 10 Americans have actually had these types of conversations.
Talking about death also forces us to look at how we are living our lives now. Do we want the final chapter to be different? If so, how? What do we have to do to prepare for life’s final chapter, both the living of it and the end of it? How do we help our loved ones to do the same?
Initiating conversations about health, legal, financial and end-of-life issues will be difficult for you and your loved ones, but having these tough talks will encourage the making of a plan that accurately reflects their wishes and prepares and engages those whom you love. Here are some things to consider:
- Select a time to talk when there will be no interruptions.
- Select a comfortable location for the conversation to take place such as your home, on a walk or at a park.
- Decide who should be included in the conversation.
- Make a list of the topics that are most important to be discussed.
- Prepare a conversation starter — “I need your help with something” or, “I just answered some questions about how I want the end of my life to be. I want you to see my answers and I’m wondering what your answers would be.” Anticipate the response. Keep in mind that end of life conversations trigger thoughts and feelings about legacy and potential loss of control.
- Be patient. Some people may resist and others may need a little time to think. A single conversation is part of a journey or a process; it’s not about being right.
- Remember that this is most likely the first of many conversations and not everything can be covered at once.
Every conversation you have will empower you and your loved ones to truly understand each other’s wishes. After the first conversation, it is important to write down what was discussed and to continue talking with family and friends when necessary.
A way to ensure that wishes reflect any changes in thinking, which follow a life change, is by reviewing plans when any of the “5 Ds” occur:
- Every new Decade of life
- After the Death of a loved one
- After any significant Diagnosis
- After any significant Decline in functioning
- After a Divorce
These are tough talks to be sure, but essential. For additional help and resources, visit the following websites.