What’s at stake?

Talking about the end of life can be very emotional, for both the family and the older person.  Your relative may avoid talking about it because they:

  • don’t want to upset anyone
  • are superstitious – they think talking about it will make it happen
  • don’t want to be seen as morbid
  • assume you know their wishes.

Don’t assume that you don’t need to have the conversation because your relative thinks they don’t have anything to leave in a will or they have a particular faith so they’ll want to have a certain sort of funeral.

The benefits of talking include:

  • your relative feels in control
  • relief of knowing that their wishes have been documented
  • you will know what they want and needn’t fear getting it wrong
  • it helps family to feel involved.

I've done the whole lot, the wills and everything else. Everybody is quite happy about it and we feel slightly relieved if you like, that it's sorted. It has made us both feel easier.

How to start the conversation

Use triggers - talk about something that’s happened to someone you know, TV programmes or news items.  Ask leading questions such as:

  • ‘How would you feel in that situation?’
  • ‘Are there any treatments you wouldn’t want?’
  • ‘Have you thought about writing down what you want?’

I've written down what care I want... so that people know that's really what I want and they don't have the guilt or the worry. I don't know... it's something that shouldn't be thought about when you're 70, it should be thought about much earlier.

What to consider

There are many things to consider when planning for the end of life. This might include:

  • where they want to be cared for – at home, in a care home or a hospice
  • legal and financial matters, such as making a will
  • funeral choices that take account of their beliefs, any music or readings, who they want to be there
  • what will happen to their pets.

Your relative’s wishes concerning their care and treatment can be recorded in:

  • a health and welfare power of attorney
  • an advance decision, which is legally binding and relates to treatment after loss of capacity. This can specify any treatment they don’t want to receive in certain circumstances and might include their decision to refuse resuscitation or some life-sustaining treatments like artificial ventilation.

Your relative may benefit from support from a trained counsellor or organisations that deal with specific long-term conditions.

Next steps

Compassion in Dying has produced a guide to planning for your care and treatment.  Go to: compassionindying.org.uk/library/starting-the-conversation/

You can also find useful resources on the Dying Matters website dyingmatters.org/

The NHS choices website has information and support for end-of-life planning at nhs.uk/planners/end-of-life-care/pages/starting-to-talk-about-your-illness.aspx

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