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Starting the conversation with family about end-of-life wishes

Posted October 11, 2018 2:17 p.m. EDT

According to the 2018 Conversation Project National Survey, 92 percent of Americans say it is important to discuss their wishes for end-of-life care, but only 32 percent have had such a conversation.

This story was written for our sponsor, Transitions LifeCare.

Planning your final months of life is never an easy task, but it is an invaluable gift to you and your loved ones.

Beginning the conversation at home around the kitchen table will allow for a more relaxed atmosphere to discuss what matters most to you. These discussions can be among the richest and most intimate that friends and family share, and can help make decisions easier when the time comes.

According to the 2018 Conversation Project National Survey, 92 percent of Americans say it is important to discuss their wishes for end-of-life care, but only 32 percent have had such a conversation. Furthermore, 95 percent of Americans say they would be willing to talk about their wishes while 53 percent even say they’d be relieved to discuss it.

"Our society is afraid to talk about dying," said Meredith Jones, clinical manager of counseling services at Transitions LifeCare. "We need to continue to work on shifting that mentality and encourage everyone to talk more about dying."

Jones added, "It is important to share the way you want to live at the end of your life and communicate about the kind of care you want or don’t want for yourself."

There is a lot to consider when preparing for your end-of-life wishes. Many questions will arise among loved ones, but sharing your wishes is critically important and can easily be done by thinking through some questions prior to the discussion.

  1. What's most important to you as you think about how you want to live at the end of your life?
  2. What do you value the most?
  3. What kind of role do you want to have in the decision-making process?
  4. How long do you want to receive medical care?
  5. What are your preferences about where you want to be during your final months?
  6. How involved do you want your loved ones to be?

After thinking through the initial questions, it is time to have the conversation with your loved ones. Make sure you determine who all you'd like to have present, when a good time to talk will be, and where you would feel most comfortable talking to everyone.

Once the conversation begins, be patient as some may need a little more time to think. Don't steer the conversation -- just let it happen. And remember, nothing is set in stone. You and your loved ones can always change your minds as circumstances change. This will be the first of many conversations during the final months.

"Having that initial conversation with loved ones is the first step to ensuring that your end-of-life wishes are met," Jones said. "Once you have that discussion, we strongly encourage the patient to choose a healthcare proxy, also known as a durable power of attorney for healthcare to make healthcare decisions if needed as well as [to put] your wishes in writing through an advance directive. Once it is written, and properly notarized make sure someone in your family knows where a copy is, as well as your physician and attorney."

While starting the conversation may be difficult, each discussion following will help empower you and your loved ones to prepare to help each other live and die in a way that they choose.

These discussions, as well as an advance directive, are tremendous gifts for family members. It lets them know exactly what you want and doesn't leave them second-guessing about any decisions they need to make in a crisis. Instead, family members and loved ones will feel a sense of relief that they are following their loved one's wishes.  

This story was written for our sponsor, Transitions LifeCare.