When it comes to end of life planning, starting the conversation with your loved ones may seem like the hardest part. It doesn’t have to be.
Getting the Ball Rolling
Unfortunately, there is no “perfect” way of starting a conversation about death and dying. Everybody is different and, in a family, some might handle it better than others, but it is vitally important that you inform them of what you are doing and educate them on the decisions you are making. Why not spend some time and plan the conversation as much as you can to help make it easier?
- Think about who you would like to have in the room – would you rather just immediate family or perhaps some trusted friends?
- Start by simply asking those you have chosen to be part of the conversation.
- Organise a time that allows you all to come together without any time pressures so that you can calmly talk about your end of life plans.
- Don’t expect that you will be able to answer all of their possible questions after one sit down. It may take several discussions over time.
Handling the ‘Why’ Question
It is only natural for people to ask “why?” when someone close to them wants to talk about end of life planning. It could be that they don’t know much – if anything – about Advance Care Plans or they might simply be worried you are about to break some terrible news to them.
- Make sure that you are clear about what you want to cover and suggest they spend a bit of time researching the topic so that you can have a productive discussion. Perhaps direct them to our FAQs page.
- Ask them to listen first and try to be respectful of your right to ultimately make your own decisions about your future.
- Assure them that you will be open to considering all the possible options both in the immediate future (as well as in the longer term) that they might raise.
- Remind them that your plans may change over time but that they will always be an important part of the process and as such, will be kept up to date.
Breaking the Ice
You’ve done the groundwork and you now find yourself sitting around the table with your loved ones. So how do you get the conversation flowing?
Well, there are a number of ways you could try to help break the ice:
- The “Direct” Approach: “Right now my health is great, but recent events have shown just how unpredictable life can be and I’d rather you know what I’d want if I fell ill and needed you to make decisions on my behalf”.
- The “Friend” Approach: “Do you remember my dear friend Sarah? She ended up on life support after her last stroke. I got the feeling her family argued a lot about it”.
- The “In the News” Approach: “Have you seen the news stories about the people in the aged care home affected by COVID-19? They never got to talk to their family about whether they wanted to be intubated or not. I’d hate to be in that situation”.
- The “Recommendation” Approach: “I was speaking with my doctor about our family health history and he recommended I consider preparing an Advance Care Plan”.
Explaining What Matters Most
At the heart of this conversation, is the need to clearly communicate your wishes for end of life care with the people that you love and who will be responsible for actioning those wishes if the time comes where you cannot communicate for yourself. Make sure you take the time to discuss why you have made the decisions you have and tell them what matters most to you in regard to ‘quality of life’ versus ‘length of life’.
If you’ve already drafted a copy of an Advance Care Plan, bring it with you or, alternatively write a list of key points you wish to cover and present them using simple phrases such as:
- “If I require Palliative Care, I would like to go to this location…”
- “I have thought a lot about what happens if the time comes and I cannot make or voice decisions about my treatment or care. That is why I have decided to appoint this person to be my substitute decision-maker…”
- “I understand that it might be hard to let me go, but I have decided that I do not want these kinds of life sustaining treatments under any circumstances…”
Starting the conversation is a great first step….take time to consider all the things you’ve discussed but make sure you keep the conversation going. Also, remember that no matter how the conversation goes, or how many times you need to discuss your end of life planning with them, enjoy the time you have with your loved ones along the way. Tell them you love them and spend quality time making memories that will last a lifetime – they will value that more than ever in the long run.