Have you ever wondered…how could we have the difficult conversations?
Courtesy Pikes Peak Hospice & Palliative Care, Colorado Springs LIVING WELL Magazine
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—even if it’s talk about dying—gives us the facts we need to choose the best path.
Comments from family members highlight the importance of talking about end-of-life options: “I wish we had been more open about Mom’s illness early on.” “When we finally began to talk about it, did we feel some relief from the fear. We knew she would be comfortable.” “Even as we faced the uncertainty of Dad’s illness, we felt that he had control over how he lived the last phase of his life.”
Encourage your loved one to talk about their personal concerns and values, spiritual beliefs, or views about what makes life worth living. If your loved one has not yet shared their end-of-life wishes, take the initiative and talk with them. Ask permission to discuss the topic. Let them know you care about their wellbeing – especially during difficult times. And, don’t be surprised if you encounter resistance the first time you bring up the subject. Once the dialog is established you can discuss specific circumstances. You may need to have more than one conversation. Finally, assure your loved one that you will respect and honor their wishes.
There are many resources to help families get the information they need. Caring Connections, at caringinfo.org, and the Colorado Center for Hospice & Palliative Care, at cochpc.org, offer a number of resources about end-of-life care and advance care planning.
The most important first step you can take is understanding your options.
Pikes Peak Hospice & Palliative Care can help initiate and continue these important conversations. To start a conversation, please contact us at 719-633-3400, or visit pikespeakhospice.org.
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.