Communicating your end-of-life wishes is often among the most difficult conversations you can have with your family and loved ones. It's also a conversation that many avoid until it's too late.
The importance of clearly laying out your end-of-life preferences cannot be overstated, however. And doing so before you a suffer a life-threatening illness or other crisis will help reduce anxiety and doubt for family members who may be confused about final wishes that haven't been clearly expressed.
Perhaps the most important question when it comes to communicating end-of-life wishes is, "how to do it?" Fortunately, there are a variety of steps you can take and proven methods that should make the process easier for you and your family. Getting started now, before it's too late, should be a priority.
- Plan ahead
There’s no time like the present when it comes to letting your loved ones know about your final wishes is now. You can start by drawing up a living will that states your treatment and care preferences if you should ever be in a position where you can’t speak for yourself.
It's also important to have a durable power of attorney in place that appoints one family member or other trusted person to make medical decisions for you in the event you’re unable to do so. Take all the time you need to reflect on what's most important to you, then get the paperwork started.
- Be clear about what you want
It's not easy to think about becoming too ill to make healthcare and other important decisions. But a critical injury or debilitating illness can happen to anyone at any time, and it’s vital to be clear about your wishes as soon as you can in case the unthinkable happens to you.
- Finding the right opportunities
While finding the right time to talk about your end-of-life issues can be a challenge, here are some events that can present opportunities to sit down with family and loved ones:
*Gatherings or time spent related to milestones such as the birth of a child, marriage, death of a loved one, retirement, anniversaries, etc.
*During holiday gatherings when many family members may be present.
*When creating your will or other estate planning.
*When a major illness requires that you or another family member move out of the home and into a long-term care setting - such as an assisted living community or a nursing home - or when a friend or family member is facing a serious illness or end-of-life situation.
- Talk often
It's important to have end-of-life conversations early and to ensure that everyone understands your wishes. Moreover, your preferences may change over time and create the need for regular discussions on the subject.
- Ask permission
Again, discussing end-of-life issues isn't necessarily easy, and it may make some of your family members uncomfortable. Asking your loved ones for permission before diving into the topic reassures them that you respect and honor everyone's desires.
- Keep the purpose in mind
Your conversations with loved ones should address two important goals: making sure that your financial and healthcare wishes are expressed and honored, and providing them with the information and confidence they need to make future decisions.
- Find an Appropriate Setting
Find a quiet, comfortable place to have discussions about end-of-life wishes - preferably somewhere private and without distractions. A noisy restaurant or other public places is probably not the right setting to broach this tough topic.
- Be a good listener
Whether you're discussing your end-of-life wishes, listening to another family member express theirs, or getting feedback from family and friends, it's important to listen carefully. Make every effort to hear and understand what your loved ones are saying, and make clear to them that it’s important to you. If you're listening to someone else,express their wishes, try to reaffirm what they’re saying and acknowledge their right to make life choices, even if you disagree with them.
- Know your audience
Some loved ones and family members may want to discuss end-of-life wishes in private rather than in a group setting. Use your knowledge of the people involved to figure out the best way express your wishes.
- Let others set the pace
If you're in the role of listening to a family member express their wishes, follow their lead. Avoid correcting the person or becoming argumentative if they say something you don’t agree with.