October 28, 2022

The Tough Conversations: Planning for End of Life

According to the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing: “90% of individuals believe that talking to loved ones about end-of-life wishes is important, but only 27% have done so.” 

Death is an inevitable part of the human experience, but we often avoid talking about it because it’s an uncomfortable conversation topic. Unfortunately, the avoidance of discussing death can lead to even more difficulty and stress later on in life. Planning for end-of-life care with your loved ones is never easy, so we compiled a brief list of points to help you navigate this conversation and process:

Create a plan: Begin by deciding all the points that need to be discussed with your loved one. Some questions to consider may be: 

  1. Where would they prefer to be – at home? In a hospital? Are there circumstances that would change the answer to this question? 
  2. Who will help make decisions in the event that they cannot for themselves? 
  3. Is there a point at which they would like care or treatment to cease? 
  4. When the time comes, would they rather be alone or surrounded by loved ones? 
  5. Are there affairs that need to be put in order now or in the near future? There are many things to consider on this front, including a living will and possibly appointing a health care proxy. 
  6. Do they know what their ideal funeral and burial arrangements look like? 

Set up a conversation: Before you meet with your loved one, it may be helpful to seek out a friend or counselor and have a “practice” discussion prior. While it may still be a difficult conversation to have, this may ease some nerves and tension and bolster confidence. 

Then, set an appropriate time and place to chat. While they may feel the most comfortable in their own home, provide a few options of times and places to meet. And more importantly, give them a heads up as to what you will be discussing to help your loved one avoid being caught off-guard. 

Remember that while this conversation is difficult for you, it may be equally or harder for your loved one. Try to pay attention to their body language and answers to questions, and if need be, pause the conversation and circle back at a later point in time. Death is overwhelming, and there may need to be a bit more time and space to realize answers. Be patient, understanding, and calm. 

Follow up with family/support team: With answers gathered, it’s important to communicate any relevant answers to decision-makers in your loved one’s life. Make a list of any to-dos to help accomplish their wishes and follow-up with your loved one to let them know what timeline you are on to help with any preparations. 

While this may all feel overwhelming, know that you are not alone. There are many resources for you and your family to lean on during this time, including the Kline Galland Senior Care Resource Line.