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November 03, 2016

How to Talk to Your Family about End-of-Life Wishes

In the 21st century, people are living longer than ever, with those in the United States often living into their 70s, 80s and beyond. Perhaps because of this, people often delay talking about the subject of death and accompanying end-of-life issues. Awkward as conversations on these difficult subjects may be, though, it’s important to talk about our own mortality with family and friends, because there are significant benefits in doing so. Here are tips for effectively communicating your wishes.

Before you can share your wishes, of course, you need to be clear about what they are. NextAvenue.org shares tips on creating an end-of-life plan, and it’s important to decide how much medical intervention will be desired—and options are broad. “Medical interventions are extremely effective at keeping us alive at the end of life, even after any prospect of restoring us to consciousness, much less good health, has passed.” How do you view this issue? Do you want any and all steps taken to prolong life? Or do you prefer not to have your medical team take extraordinary measures?

Note that your viewpoint can change, and that’s OK. Here is a prime example. Let’s say you already have a medical condition that will ultimately be fatal, perhaps a slow-progressing cancer. You initially say you do not want extraordinary measures taken when the time comes, but then you discover your granddaughter—or great-granddaughter—is getting married in two years. That piece of information may cause you to change your thinking, and perhaps you will want more significant medical interventions if the disease progresses too far before the wedding.

No matter what you decide, be sure to make an advance directive containing your most up-to-date end-of-life wishes. You can ask your doctor about the right form for your state (and also talk to him or her about any questions or concerns you have about the subject) or get them from AARP online (make sure you choose your state from the scrollbar, as specifics differ by state). It’s not enough to create a plan and fill out the appropriate paperwork, though. You also need to make sure your loved ones know what they are. Reluctant? This quote from NextAvenue.org may ease your concerns:

“Difficult as these conversations and plans may be, for your children’s sake and for your own peace of mind, discuss them now, while you are lucid and healthy. Your children may not thank you today, but they will appreciate the guidance when the time comes. That’s one last gift of love you can give them after you’re gone.”

Specifics to Discuss

Be sure to share:

  • Fears, which often include pain or loss of dignity
  • Information you’ve received from your doctor about potential medical decisions and end-of-life treatments
  • Legal and financial information that’s important for your family to know
  • Spiritual concerns and perspectives
  • What treatments and types of care are acceptable
  • Where you want to be if seriously ill: Hospital? Nursing home? Home?
  • Where family members can find your will, insurance information, advance directive and power of attorney documents

After you’ve made these decisions and had the difficult conversations, what’s left? Enjoying your life to the fullest possible!

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