For many people, death and dying are taboo subjects. They aren't discussed openly around the dinner table, and when someone is in a position of dying, it can be isolating because of the perceived taboo. Whether you're considering hospice for yourself or a loved one or just planning ahead for the future, though, being able to talk about dying with your loved ones can be important.
Openly discussing the end of life lets people ensure their wishes are known and can be followed, provides the potential for closure and support, and helps ensure a dying person doesn't feel isolated when they may most need their family and friends.
If you know your time on this earth is limited and want to let other people know about it and start planning, take a little time to plan for these conversations. You may have had time to come to terms with it, or at least get over the immediate shock of such news. If someone else doesn't know, you may need to ensure they have time to process your news before you get into planning or letting your wishes be known.
Even if you don't know that death is potentially near, if you want to have conversations about dying or what you'd like to happen afterward, avoid dropping these thoughts on someone suddenly. Instead, try to choose a time and place, whenever possible, where you can have a private conversation that's unlikely to be interrupted. It might also help to ensure you can both sit comfortably during the conversation.
If someone you love is dying and you're visiting with them — in their home, a hospital or a hospice environment — you may not know what tone to take or how to proceed with the conversation. Some people may want to have a normal conversation, while others may want to tell you what they're feeling and dealing with. Some people of faith may regard the moment with joy, knowing they're going to a better place. Some people may want to joke and tell stories. Others may have regrets or sorrows and need to share them.
Because you don't know what the person may want, consider letting them set the tone of any conversation. If they begin to discuss details about their condition or death, you can discuss that with them and ask tactful and kind questions. If they joke around and seem to want to reminisce or stay with lighthearted topics, let them enjoy the break from heavy thoughts they might be dealing with and just be good company for them.
If you want to talk about your own end of life — whether that may be soon or many years from now — be willing to open up about your wishes. This isn't always easy, especially if you're from a background that has traditions and expectations about what might happen. But talking about your wishes is important if you want them to be followed.
Some things you can do to increase the chances your wishes will be followed include:
If you're discussing the end of life with someone, it can be an important time to ensure there's nothing either of you may regret. When someone you love is dying, don't wait for them to make the first move; you're the one who'll be left living with regrets. Whenever possible, tactfully open up a dialogue and ask for forgiveness if you feel you've wronged the person. If you feel wronged, don't wait for them to ask for forgiveness; simply let them know that you love them and forgave them already.
Finally, be willing to set aside emotional discussions to handle practical matters when necessary. That may be something as small as whether the person would like a drink or something to eat or as big as whether hospice in an assisted living community might be the best place for the person to be comfortable and safe right now. Respect the dying person's wishes as much as possible while working together to make decisions that make practical and emotional sense.