Talking about life-limiting illness isn’t easy. We don’t want to rob our loved ones of hope. We think that maybe, by avoiding the conversation, we can protect them – and ourselves – from suffering, from anxiety, from the unknown.
But the very conversations we avoid are the ones that give us some measure of control. Sharing our worries and wishes brings connection and understanding. Exploring care alternatives and end-of-life options gives us the facts we need to choose the best path.
The Power of Conversation
Talking about serious illness offers opportunities for you to control the things you can. Each family’s experience is unique, but these steps are key:
Find someone you trust.
Surround yourself with allies and advocates who can offer the emotional and practical support you need, and help you navigate the search for information and options.
No questions are off limits. Ask the people you love about their concerns and desires. Ask your physician about what is happening, what to expect, and what can be done. Ask about alternatives for care and end-of-life options. And keep asking as long as you have questions.
Share your wishes.
“I don’t want to be a burden.” “I want to go on a trip.” “I want to die at home.” Be candid with caregivers about your wishes to guide the kind of support you want. These goals may change over the course of an illness, so revisit the conversation.
There’s no “right” time to talk about the multitude of issues regarding the end-of-life, but it’s more helpful when conversations can be part of an ongoing process—instead of waiting until the situation has dramatically deteriorated or a crisis has occurred. Discussing options at the beginning of a life-limiting illness can help you make choices in advance and guide your decision-making.