As humans we don't want to talk about death, or even the reality everyone will die one day. We definitely don't want to talk about our own death or our family members deaths. But... it needs to happen. Death is a part of life, in fact not only is it part of life, it is what makes life so precious. If we didn't have a limited amount of time then it wouldn't matter what we did with our time. Death is the ultimate elephant in the room, we have a mini existential crisis at major age milestones, but never fully look at the reason as being because our limited time is passing. Recognizing that death is guaranteed we can begin to appreciate what a gift life is to us. While looking at our own end of life is scary, the rewards you reap from confronting the reality are worth it.
The reality is that these conversations are hard to have with our loved ones and there are limitless excuses to avoid the topic and find something more pressing to talk about. When we are healthy the idea of talking about our death or the death of our family members is taboo, morbid, and uncomfortable. However, when we are facing the end, these conversations are not easier to have. Often the family doesn't want to face the reality of what is happening, and the emotional significance of imagining these plans being enacted soon makes them hard to make. If you are declining and your family doesn't want to face it, you are still thinking about what you want and no one wants to hear it. It makes for stress all the way around. If the conversations have been made and documented, you don't have to stress and the family knows its already decided, when its time, the plans will be followed.
How do we facilitate these conversations then? You don't want to think about life being finite when you are healthy and young, and its too emotional when life is coming to a close, it seems like there is never a good time.
The time is now.
Likely, you will live a long life and start to decline when you are elderly and have some time with palliative care, or hospice, or both but there is also a possibility that your life could be cut short. If you are left without any plans for your family to follow, it is more stressful for everyone. Your family will spend possibly years trying to come to grips with what was done or not done as you died because you didn't have an uncomfortable conversation. You may think you will just tell your loved ones when its time, but you may not be able to communicate effectively. Having the talk early means those wishes are clear and can be followed effectively.
How can you start this conversation? Start by deciding what you want, write it down. Let the person or people who need to know, know that you have plans. A simple, "Hey, I have a vigil plan and this is what is in it" can let the conversation get started. It is infinitely easier to talk about your end of life wishes when you are not AT your end of life. This can spark a conversation about what they want and ultimately bring you closer.
There are many benefits to having the conversation early. You get to infuse as much of your personality into the plans as you want, its easier to be creative with your plans when time isn't feeling short. Having a highly personalized plan will help the survivors with their grief. Your perspective on life can shift to treating your time as more precious, making more of your days and enjoying the small pleasures more. Having the conversations with your loved ones when you can assume you still have decades to go can relieve stress they didn't even know they were carrying about how they would manage if something were to happen.
The conversation can be difficult to have, but if you choose not to have it, your death will be so much more difficult. All of us will die one day and we can either make it easy for those we leave behind or we can have our wishes clearly made so those who are grieving can start to heal.
What documents do you have already? Do you have your wishes documented and do your loved ones know where they are?
My name is Abby, my life has been touched many times by loss and grief. This life has led me to helping others navigate their own grief. I have become a INELDA trained End Of Life Doula and a hospice volunteer. I am not a professional counselor or psychologist and all advice given should be treated as advice from a friend.