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How to talk to someone about end of life care

Every year Halloween comes around and there are images of the dead, the undead, the multiple times dead, but outside of this culturally acceptable time to entertain ourselves with the notion of death, it’s actually really hard to talk about death. 

Maybe that’s because death around Halloween isn’t very serious. On the other hand, they say the things that matter to us (that we wish would get taken seriously but we don’t know how to do that) are the things we joke about.

We wonder why it is hard to have a serious conversation about end of life and death, and why we aren’t good at it. 

The thing is: you only get good at the things you do. 


Here are three ways to set yourself up to have a conversation about death with someone you care about.

This will help you and them get organized about the important stuff and then move on so you can do the important thing: live your life. 

1. Start the conversation from a mutually understood place - an article, movie, or book is good. Maybe you start by asking, “If you were Leia in The Force Awakens what would you do after Han died?” 

Or maybe it’s something even closer to home than that. A friend or extended family member dies. Maybe it’s your grandmother who held the family together. 

Sometimes, even if you weren’t that close with them as other people were, it can be a good place to start reflecting on what matters to the people you are close to before it’s too late. 

The more you look for opportunities to talk about what would happen if, the more opportunities you take. The more you talk about what would happen if, the easier it gets to talk about, the better you get at talking about it, and the less you worry about it.

2. Focus on your intention: love. 

We all know there a spoken and unspoken levels of conversation. One of the most important unspoken levels is intention. 

Intention is knowing the heart of what you are trying to say and what you are looking for in the conversation. 

It’s the real reason you’re talking about this. 

No, it’s not because you are afraid. Or because you think it’s a good idea. Or someone is making you talk about this.

It’s because you love them and you care about them, and it’s important to you that you both know what makes you (and them) feel loved and supported so that you can put a plan together should something happen to either of you.

3. Ask about the things that worry you and them. 

Maybe you worry about having a support system when they are gone. You are afraid there will be nobody to go through it with you, and that’s just a downward spiral of you getting anxious. If you worry about that, they probably do too. Ask and share: what makes you feel safe? What makes you feel loved and supported? 

Then, once you’ve had a conversation about these pieces, you are in a position to take action pulling together the kinds of organization systems, people, support, and resources you need to research, decide on a plan, and have the plan available for the people who need it. 


Here’s how this looks: 

You: I’ve been reading this really great book In My Own Skin and it’s about what this mom and her four daughters did after her husband died suddenly. It got me thinking about the life insurance policy I have through work, and I actually think I’d like to review that with you, and potentially find another individual policy that we could both have to build off what I already have in place. What I find important about this is that there are practical things we can make sure we purchase enough life insurance for, but I also want to make sure we think about the bigger picture of what it would take to live again, beyond paying for my funeral or paying for the mortgage. If something happened to me, what would you want to feel safe? What would you want to know? What would you worry about?

Them: (You are listening)

You: So what I’m hearing is that for you.... And for me… what if we…?

Them: (and you listen some more)

You: Thank you for talking with me about this. I’ve just been thinking about our life and all the great things we have going for us, and should anything happen that changes our plans I wanted us both to know what we should do.

That’s it. Do it.

Click here to download a free template of What to Say when you or someone you know is going through a hard time.


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