Some of the most difficult conversations are the most important ones, especially those involving illness and death. Everyone desires a peaceful death, but the topic often feels too delicate or too soon.
November is recognized annually as National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, and this year’s theme is “Courageous Conversations.” Hospice professionals, like those at Heart to Heart Hospice, play a crucial role in guiding families through end-of-life care discussions, helping patients realize a “good death” that aligns with their values and desires, as they navigate the progression of their disease.
“In a culture that often teaches us to resist mortality and a healthcare system defined
by interventionism, the seemingly simple act of having a conversation about dying can
have a profound impact,” according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO). It’s essential to ask questions like, “What does death mean in my life? If I am faced with a terminal diagnosis, how would my values shape my end-of-life journey? How do I want my loved ones to engage with me toward the end of my life?”
Courageous Conversations: What You Can DO
1. Initiate the conversation.
While 90 percent of people consider end-of-life conversations important, only 27 percent have actually had them, as reported by the AARP in “How to Start a Conversation about End of-Life Care.” Whether you or a loved one are receiving palliative or hospice care, taking the initiative to have a courageous conversation about end-of-life care with your family members, caregivers, and healthcare providers is vital. Such conversations will not hasten death or unnecessarily distress loved ones, as some may fear, but they establish an open dialogue, ensuring your wishes are understood and eliminating guesswork.
The NHPCO offers many resources on Talking About Serious Illness and Care, including specific communication tips for discussions with your doctors, inner circle, community, and yourself. Even in the early stages of a disease, like cancer, Alzheimer’s, or dementia, it’s helpful to address possibilities and your preferred journey before it becomes all-consuming. From pain management to religious traditions and emotional support, these conversations pave the way for your peace of mind.
2. Seek support.
Don’t go it alone; compassionate, knowledgeable support is available. Hospice professionals can assist with official healthcare documents like advance directives or resources like the Five Wishes document. In these, you can outline medical care decisions, designate a healthcare proxy, and express the type of support you desire, plus your relational needs, funeral wishes, and more. Even if this is your family’s first experience with a loved one’s terminal illness, a dedicated hospice team is ready to serve you with tenderness and dignity.
In addition to experienced professionals helping families address end-of-life wishes, Heart to Heart Hospice offers resources like the Patient and Family Handbook and Memory Journal to guide conversations and capture cherished memories. Instead of a hospital, most patients desire to die at home (or a facility they consider home), surrounded by their loved ones. Hospice care helps prevent unnecessary hospitalizations by providing pain and symptom management at home, with an army of support from physicians, nurses, chaplains, aides, social workers, and volunteers.
3. Share your personal story.
Sadness, grief, and acceptance are part of the dying process and of saying goodbye to someone you love. Help remove the stigma surrounding hospice care and death, which impacts us all. Sharing your experiences can help debunk some myths about hospice, including the misconception that hospice signifies giving up. In reality, hospice often improves a patient’s quality of life during their final months, extending both their lifespan and their overall well-being, due to the dedicated resources and support for patients and their caregivers.
Educate your friends and family about how these courageous conversations helped create a peaceful, dignified atmosphere during your loved one’s illness and death. During National Hospice and Palliative Care Month in November, families are encouraged to share their hospice stories on social media, using the following hashtags to raise awareness:
Caring for a loved one with a terminal illness while respecting their wishes is a final act of love. Seize the opportunity to start your own courageous conversations today.