One conversation with loved one can make a huge difference

One of the most important things we can do around preparing for “the last adventure of life” is to have those important conversations with our loved ones – letting them know what our hopes and desires are around the end of our lives. All too often, people end up saving these conversations for a “rainy day,” and then end up not having them until it’s too late.

Here are some facts:

** Sixty percent of people say that making sure their family is not burdened by tough decisions is “extremely important.” However, 56% have not communicated their end-of-life wishes to another person.

** Seventy percent of people say they prefer to die at home. However, 70% die in a hospital, nursing home, or long-term-care facility. And sometimes, these deaths are much more traumatic than necessary.

I just heard about a very unfortunate situation that unfolded like this at a hospital in Tucson, AZ, even after a gentleman had his advance directives written down ahead of time. This is why, when your loved one is in a hospital or facility for any length of time, it’s extremely important that the family, physician, and staff of the facility make a point to go over the end-of-life wishes of the individual again to clarify and update, according to the situation.

** Eighty percent of people say that if they become seriously ill, they would like to speak with their physician about end-of-life care. However, only 7% report having that conversation.

** Eighty-two percent of people say that it’s important to put their wishes in writing. However, only 23% have actually put their wishes in writing.

Since those initial conversations with parents, children, siblings, and significant others are so important to have, and to be continued and updated over time, here are some ideas on how to “break the ice” with them.

1) I need your help with something.

2) Will you help me think about our future together?

3) I just answered some questions about how I’d like the end of my life to be. I’d like you to see my answers. I’m also wondering what your answers might be.

4) Do you have any particular concerns about your health? And what about the last years of your life? Have you thought about your wishes in this regard?

5) Who would you like – or not like – to support and believe in your care? Is there someone you’d like to make decisions on your behalf, if an when you’re not able to yourself? Who would you like to be your “health care proxy”?

6) Would you rather be actively involved in decisions about your end-of-life care, if possible?

7) Mom/Dad, have you ever thought about what you would do when you get ill and can no longer take care of yourself?

8) I just made some funeral plans/arrangements for myself. Have you thought about what you’d like in this regard – for yourself?

Much of the above facts and questions come from an organization called The Conversation Project of Boulder County in Colorado. They are modeled on a Project with the same name that was started in the Boston area by Ellen Goodman – who could speak with her mother about anything, but the end-of-life.

Ellen wished that she and her mother had been able to “start the conversation” around the specifics of her mother’s death much sooner than they did; and this is how she came to start The Conversation Project. You can see more about this Project at:

Another organization that works with similar end-of-life ideas and questions is The Five Wishes. I will write more about this organization in a forthcoming article.



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