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End of Life: Beginning the Conversation

Most people are afraid to talk—even think—about the D word. The fear of permanent separation, the suffering, the unknown, all prevent the flow of words. But to avoid the topic will not keep death from happening or ease the pain of the loss. Facing your fears is the first step towards planning for the future. Try to change your outlook and open up the lines of communication between you and your loved ones', before illness emerges. Planning for death is the best way to ensure that your loved ones' wishes will be fulfilled and that they will be able to live life to the fullest until the end.

Facing your fears is the first step towards planning for the future.

Why Is It Important? Because, though we may want a quick death, many of us die after a slow decline. So plan well and you’ll find that you safeguarded your loved one's well-being and your peace of mind.

Where do I want to die? Who will take care of me? What do I have to do to achieve a “good death?” While these issues haven’t changed for generations, others are posing new challenges. The health care arena has evolved so quickly that new medical technologies can extend life far beyond its natural course.

Before you were born your parents spent nine months preparing for you. They wanted to make your arrival smooth and loving. The end should be no different, but this time it’s up to you and your loved one. A well pondered plan bestows a fuller and more comfortable life in the final days.

How Do I Begin? You must first help your parents carry out a conversation with themselves to understand their feelings about their own death:

  • Do I want to die at home, or in a hospital or medical facility?
  • What kind of medical treatment do I want?
  • Who do I want to take care of me?
  • What kind of funeral services do I want?
  • Where do I want to be buried?

Write down their answers through advance directives, formal documents that explicitly describe their wishes for care near the end. Prepare the two most important directives:

  • A Living Will This document specifies their wishes regarding medical treatment, and particularly the refusal of life-prolonging medication when death is imminent.
  • A Health Care Power of Attorney This document allows your parents to appoint someone they trust to act on their behalf and make decisions regarding their medical treatment if they are unable to do so. Also, sit down with your parents' doctor and loved ones and have your parents communicate their wishes, which will give the physician and family comfort and peace of mind to honor the decisions.

Where Do I Get Information? AARP recognizes that you will need support to navigate end-of-life care. We’ve developed a series of articles to help you start the important conversation about death.

Article Topics

  • Legal Issues
  • Advance Directives
  • Managing Symptoms
  • Dealing With Pain
  • Providing Comfort
  • Facts About Hospice
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© 2003, 2004, 2007 AARP. Reprinting by permission only.


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