Bringing It Up
Many people prefer to take control of their own end-of-life arrangements and will feel confident enough to bring up the matter themselves. However, most people are not comfortable contemplating their death. A survey found that 60 percent of people feel it is important to spare their family from making tough choices, yet 56 percent had not yet broached the subject. If they are not forthcoming, it may be up to you to start the conversation. However, do not sideline them. Delicately say you think the subject needs to be discussed and ask whether they would rather do so now or at another time. If they say another time, schedule the conversation for a specific date and time.
What You Need to Talk About
Everyone will have different things they need to consider, but here are a few subjects most people will need to discuss.
- Money: How are you paying for end-of-life care and for funeral arrangements? You may want to discuss selling a life insurance policy to free up some cash for this. Just remember that in order for your policy to have a cash value, it needs to be a permanent life insurance policy (but it is possible to convert a term policy into a permanent policy). Also, if your loved one owns a house, you may need to sell the property to afford the cost of long-term care.
- Location: Where do they want to spend their last days? The vast majority would prefer to die at home, which has been shown to lead to more peace and less grief, but this involves more complex care and considerations.
- Care: What kind of care do they want to receive? Talk them through the multiple options (chest compressions, breathing and feeding tubes, etc) so they can get a clear idea of what they want.
- Funeral Arrangements: Do they wish to be buried, cremated, or another option entirely? Who would they like to be invited? What would they want to wear?
- Documentation: Have they made the necessary legal arrangements? According to the AARP, a living will and power of attorney are the minimum that they should have in place. If they don’t, what can you do to help them get this in order?
Making the Conversation Productive
There is no doubt that this is an incredibly difficult conversation to have. It is almost inevitable that you will feel overwhelmed at some point, but you will need to strike a balance in terms of how emotional you get. It is okay — and even healthy — to cry or express sadness. However, remember that the conversation should be about the person whose plans you are discussing, and their emotions should take precedence. Do not make it about you and your feelings.
You will also need to stick to the point. It is useful to enter the conversation with a list of points you need to hit. The Conversation Project, which works to facilitate end-of-life planning within families, has an excellent starter kit that can help with this. This document allows you to put your thoughts in order before approaching your loved one and gives you a frame of reference for the conversation.
Remember that if you do not get the answers you need now, it will only get harder. Making the conversation productive and keeping it on-topic means you don’t have to have it again and allows everyone to make the most of the remaining time.
Making end-of-life plans can be one of the hardest conversations you have, but that is no reason to avoid it. The bottom line is that these decisions must be made at some point. Talking about it now means your loved one gets to be included in the decisions surrounding their own death and you won’t have to worry about wondering whether you’re getting it right in a time of crisis.