Talking with Others about Their End-of-Life Wishes

By: Greg Hurd
Wednesday, April 20, 2016

It’s understandable that many people choose not to think about death, or spend time considering their end-of-life plans, but all too often situations arise where having to make the difficult decision with family members or loved ones about their end-of-life wishes is necessary.

This conversation can be emotionally draining and stressful, so here are a few tips to having the most productive conversation possible:

Choose an Appropriate Setting

Plan where you want to have the conversation in advance; find a quiet, comfortable place free from distractions and in a private setting. Emotions may run high, and it doesn’t help your loved one to have to worry about crying in front of strangers.

Ask Permission

Different people choose to cope with end-of-life in a variety of ways, and asking permission to discuss the topic with them shows that you are respectful of their feelings, and will honor their wishes. Some ways to ask permission are:

  • “I’d like to talk to you about how you would like to be looked after if you get sick. Is that okay?”
  • “I don’t know how I’d take care of you if you got sick. Can we talk about it now so that I know how to respect your wishes?”
  • “It would give me peace of mind to know how to take the best care of you if you get sick. Can we have a conversation about that?”

Practice Active Listening

No matter how you may feel about the subject, it’s important to remember that this is a discussion with your loved one and not a debate. Do your best to hear and understand what they are saying, and show them that you are listening by:

  • Writing down what your loved one says
  • Verbally acknowledging their right to make choices, even if you don’t agree with them
  • Showing empathy and respect by being open and honest with your loved one

Ask the Right Questions

A conversation about end-of-life plans is likely to be an emotional discussion, and it may be helpful to write out your most important questions in advance, so you don’t get emotionally overwhelmed. Some things to ask are:

  • “What can I do to support you and your decisions if you get sick?”
  • “If you were to be diagnosed with a terminal illness, what kind of treatment would you prefer?” 
  • “Have you named someone to make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to?”
  • “How would you like to be honored at the end of your life?”

Show Empathy

While you are bringing the subject up because you are concerned about your loved one’s well-being, it’s important to let them set the pace of the conversation. Try not to rush them or force them into a particular plan or ideology; remember: you’re here to show them that you love them and are concerned about them.

Some ways to show you are listening, and care are:

  • Nodding your head
  • Holding their hand
  • Reaching out to offer a hug or a comforting embrace

Having conversations with the people we love about their end-of-life choices is never easy, but these conversations matter and are an important part of ensuring that you respect your loved one and honor them in the way that they want.


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