Talk

When it comes to discussing end-of-life care, we have the numbers to prove that it isn’t common. Take for example:

  • Fifteen percent of 18-29 year olds have written down end-of-life wishes while fifty one percent of the same age group have neither talked about them nor written them down (Pew Research Center, 2013).
  • 90% of people say that talking with their loved ones about end-of-life care is important but only 27% have actually done so (The Conversation Project).
  • 82% of people say it’s important to put their wishes in writing but only 23% have actually done so (The Conversation Project).
  • 75% of Americans want to die at home, yet only 25% of them actually do (Death over Dinner).

You know you need to have this conversation, but where do you start? Don’t worry – we’ve adapted some questions from The Conversation Project to prepare you for this important talk.

What are your questions?

Start by having this conversation with yourself.
You should have two main goals: what do you need to think about and what concerns do you have?
This should help prepare you for the thoughts and decisions that come next.

What are your values?

Think about what’s most important to you in life. Are you someone who wants their independence until the very last moment of your life, or are you willing to try every form of life support to prolong your life? There’s no wrong answer here, what matters is that you know what you want. Make a short list of what your priorities would be at the end of your life to prepare you for the conversation.

What do you want to say?

Before engaging in an end-of-life conversation, you need to answer who, when, where and what you plan to discuss.

  • First, who would you want to discuss this with? It may be a parent, partner, or sibling.
  • Second, when is it important to have this conversation? Do you want to wait until you go on a trip or when you get ill?
  • Next, think where would be the best time to discuss this. Do you want to discuss this over dinner or would you rather keep it more casual during a car ride somewhere?
  • Last, know what you need to say. Use the lists from before to make sure you hit all of your main points.

The Conversation Project has provided some questions that could help you BREAK THE ICE next time you discuss:

  • “I need your help with something.”
  • “Remember how someone in the family died – was it a ‘good’ death or a ‘hard’ death? How will yours be different?”
  • “I was thinking about what happened to [person] and it made me realize..”

Know that this is a conversation you’ll have more than once, and it’s likely that your views will change over time. That’s okay! Part of growing up is having new experiences and new opinions as a result.

Check out our list of resources below to get some more ideas on how to kick off your end-of-life conversation.

Resources

Books

  • Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande, 2014.
  • The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America by Ann Neumann, 2016.
  • The Conversation: A Revolutionary Plan for End-of-Life Care by Angelo E. Volandes, M.D., 2015.
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, 2016.
  • Grief is a Journey: Finding Your Path through Loss by Dr. Kenneth J. Doka, 2016.
  • More than Sympathy: Essential Advice on Funerals, Money, Family, and Grief After the Death of a Loved One by Steven D. Price, 2014.
  • At Peace: Choosing a Good Death After a Long Life by Samuel Harrington, M.D., 2018.
  • With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial by Kathryn Mannix, 2018.
  • When Someone Dies: The Practical Guide to the Logistics of Death by Scott Taylor Smith with Michael Castleman, 2013.
  • The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs, 2017.