Meeting Your Final Days Head-on

Get ready for a difficult question, but one you really must discuss with your family. How do you want your final days to be? As your “golden years” begin to fade, a serious chronic condition or cancer may come to the foreground. While all of us would like to live a long life and be healthy until our dying day, that is usually not the way it works. We are living longer and medical science is keeping us alive, but at some point that “science” may not provide a life worth living. The physical body can’t last forever, and the uncomfortable and difficult reality is that people do die. Often times, family members are left to deal with unresolved issues, and without pre-planning it can be a real burden. To ensure a dying persons wishes are honored and to ease the burden on family members, the subject must be discussed.

Have you spoken to your loved ones about your wishes if the going gets tough? This goes way beyond talking to them about your finances or where your safety deposit box is located. It involves far more than having a living will, and giving someone durable power of attorney. It’s sitting down and speaking with them about how you want your life to end, if and when illness starts winning. Do you want your life extended hours or days by extraordinary means? Do you want pain medicine even if it dulls your awareness of family and friends around you? Do you want to fight back against illness at all costs?

Doctors who deal with end of life issues tell me that what is often most confounding is how families are not in agreement. Perhaps the patient has lost their voice, or they are too sick or unaware to weigh in with their opinion. Even if they have earlier made their wishes clear, perhaps it is a son or daughter who is now changing their mind and saying no. Does the patient need to suffer because of these disagreements?

Unfortunately, many of you who are reading this may not have had a frank discussion with loved ones about this issue. I know this is not an uplifting topic, but the result of not confronting it would be a tougher alternative. Doing so shows respect for the entire family, and gives everyone value.

Below are a couple of suggestions on how to approach the subject in a constructive, and nonthreatening way:

De-personalize the Issue Sometimes it is easier to talk about an issue when it relates to other people. Bring the subject up by talking about a friend, either real or invented. Mention that you read about, or saw a TV program on the topic and want to hear their opinion.

Get Assistance from Outside the FamilyWhen an issue is so emotionally charged, it can sometimes be most effective to seek assistance from a non-family member.

Ask a friend who can give an objective view to approach the subject. Have someone from your faith community lend a hand. Some hospice agencies have professionals to initiate discussions.

After exploring the wishes of your family member,write down what was decided, including a date. This will ensure that over time, decisions are accurately remembered. During the emotional time surrounding death, it’s one less burden to worry about.

By all means, enjoy your years to the fullest. Unfortunately for all of us, they will certainly end someday. Don’t miss the opportunity to make your voice and feelings heard, and more importantly understood. Death should be treated with as much care and delicacy as any other part of your life. Make sure you are the one deciding how the finale to your life story will play out. Don’t leave the ending of such an important personal journey in the hands of anyone other than yourself.