Openly engaging in EOL (end-of-life) conversations can be daunting. But learning more about the process, and what possible things to say, can be helpful. Read more below.
BY KATE FAVARO - Hospice of St. Lawrence Valley
There are some conversations most people dread having. Whether it’s an excited ten-year-old asking “where do babies come from?”, a heartbreaking “it’s not you, it’s me” speech, or telling a family member “no, I won’t lend you money, again”, there is frequently a sense of unease around these topics. Another commonly avoided conversation, one that people will go to great lengths to avoid, is the plan for when they get seriously ill and die.
Talking about your eventual death, or the death of a loved one, is difficult for many reasons. First, we are a superstitious bunch. What if talking about death makes happen? (We talk about winning the lottery and quitting our jobs but I’ve yet to see that come to fruition for anyone I know personally.) Talking about death and preparing for it does not cause it. Others conclude that it can bring up a lot of questions, maybe reveal some skeletons in the closets, and potentially create tension among family members. Perhaps the biggest reason we avoid this conversation is because we simply don’t know where to start or what to expect.
Hospice of St. Lawrence Valley offers the following suggestions:
• Know the “why.” Why does this matter to you? Why does it matter now? Why/how will it help the people you’re talking with prepare for your death? Focusing on the purpose for the conversation can help keep family and friends focused on the bigger picture and the benefit to planning for an illness and death. If the “why” is because you’re facing a serious, life-limiting illness be honest with them and talk about that too.
• Come prepared. Getting an idea of what goes into advanced planning yourself can lower your own anxiety and make the subject easier to talk about. Comprehensive advanced planning will include looking at multiple areas of your life including but not limited to: health care decisions, legal documents, financial information, online presence, funeral and burial plans, and legacy. Not sure where to start with learning about this process? Hospice recently released their Traveler’s Guide to Life Road Maps for the Journey’s End advanced planning guide, which you can learn more about on our website.
• Set yourself up for success. Conversations about end-of-life planning are not one and done. If you’re working to complete a Traveler’s Guide to Life Road Maps for the Journey’s End advanced planning guide, recognize this should be an ongoing conversation with family and friends. Go into this project knowing it is not something you sit down and complete on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. This can help keep you from getting overwhelmed and discouraged. As an aside- if you try to have these conversations with friends and family and they refuse to participate, do the work anyway and be sure to tell them where they can find it.
These conversations are hard, without a doubt. They make you and your loved ones imagine a world without you in it- an awful but eventual guarantee. However, the beauty of having these hard conversations is they give you the gift of time to share with your loved ones. When you get to the end of your life, having a plan in place, you can focus on what really matters. Spend time sharing your favorite cookie recipe, laughing about good times, and saying goodbye rather than worrying about what funeral home to use or where the will was kept.
For more info on advanced care planning and getting the conversation started visit www.hospiceslv.org or call 315-265-3105.
Kate Favaro is Bereavement Coordinator & Volunteer Manager with Hospice of St. Lawrence Valley.