When you or a loved one develops a serious illness, it's normal to go through an emotional experience similar to grieving. If the illness is life-threatening, it's important to talk about a plan for the end of life. These conversations can be challenging, but there are ways to make them easier.
Talking About Hospice
Death can be a difficult subject to discuss. Many patients and their families are reluctant to discuss even the possibility of hospice. Most people would prefer to die in their own homes. But all too often, terminally ill patients die without hospice, in a hospital, receiving treatment that is either unwanted or ineffective. Their loved ones usually have only limited access to the patient and often miss sharing their last moments of life.
It's common for people to begin grappling with and grieving a loss before it completely unfolds. The fears and feelings that surface now are better aired than ignored. Plus, practical matters need to be discussed. End-of-life care needs to be arranged. Funeral plans need to be considered. Legal and financial matters must be addressed now or in the days after death.
To ensure the patient's family understands his or her wishes, everyone involved should learn all they can about hospice and discuss their feelings with one another before a medical crisis strikes. When loved ones are clear about the patient's preferences for treatment, they are free to devote more energy to the patient's care.
Making Time To Say Goodbye
Although painful in so many ways, a terminal illness offers time to say "I love you," to share appreciation and to make amends when necessary. When death occurs unexpectedly, people often regret not having had a chance to do these things. Ira Byock, author of Dying Well and a longtime hospice advocate, suggests dying people and their families exchange these words with each other:
- I Love You
- I Forgive You
- Forgive Me
- Thank You
Sometimes, dying people hold on to life because they sense others aren't ready to let them go. They want to hear it's all right to let go when they are ready to do so. The assurance their family will be able to carry on — perhaps to help children grow up or to fulfill another's shared dream — may offer enormous relief.