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Wilburn: Couples should make and discuss end-of-life plans
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Discussion questions

Considering a conversation about end-of-life plans? Here are some starting points:

  • If you become ill and can't make decisions for yourself, what would you like to happen? Is there someone you would like to have make these decisions for you?
  • Are there any treatments, such as life support or intravenous tube feeding, that you want or do not want? Do you have any fears or concerns about the treatments you might receive? What are they?
  • What does "dying with dignity" mean to you?

After you have talked about end-of-life planning decisions with your loved one:

  • Discuss your wishes with family members. Talking openly about your wishes now will reduce potential misunderstandings in the future.
  • Put your wishes on paper by filling out an advance directive or other legally recognized document. Unless your wishes are written down, health care professionals may not act upon them.
  • Give copies of your advance directive to all family members who may be involved in your care. Be sure a copy is stored in a safe place that is known about and can be easily accessed by others.

Talking about death and other end-of-life topics can be difficult, but it is extremely important.

If you do not make decisions in advance, someone else will make them for you, and they may not be what you want.

By making plans and decisions before a crisis occurs, you will be placing your loved ones in positions of power and knowledge. Instead of wondering what you want, your family can be sure your wishes are respected.

Here are some ideas to help you begin to talk about end-of-life decisions:

Choose a time when all parties are in good moods and have time to talk.

Consider having these conversations in an environment where you have the other person's undivided attention.

Bring up the topic indirectly by focusing on yourself and your own end-of-life decisions. For example, "I've made some important decisions should I become ill or have an accident. I am doing this to make things easier for the ones I care about. I realized I don't know what your thoughts are about this topic. Maybe we could talk?" Use your own wishes as a way to approach specific topics or questions.

Use an example of another family member or friend who is ill or has passed away.

Ask your loved one how they would want things handled if they were in that situation. Emphasize the importance of writing these wishes down to increase the chances they are followed.

Be prepared to delay the discussion to another time. Your loved one may need time to consider this issue and may not be ready for a discussion right away. But be sure to follow up.

Sometimes providing an article about end-of-life planning or an advanced directive document is a helpful conversation starter.

Having conversations about end-of-life planning issues is never easy. These discussions force us to face our own mortality and the mortality of those we love. An important point to remember, however, is that having these conversations today can make the lives of those you love less difficult in the future.

Source: Ohio State University Extension

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Her Family Ties column runs in Sunday Life on the first Sunday of each month. Contact: 770-535-8290.