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Palliative Care Center

Life-Threatening Illness: What to Tell Family, Friends

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Sharing Your Last Wishes

At some point, there will come a time when you will want to share with your loved ones how you would like things to go at the end of your life: what kind of treatments you do and do not want and how you would like things handled once you have died. Actually, these are conversations that many people should be having with their families even when they are healthy, experts say, but many do not.

You can express your wishes using advance directives such as a living will or a medical power of attorney, but it's also important to talk directly with your closest loved ones about what you want. 

People, though, are often afraid to say anything about these matters, and family members often don't want to be the first one to bring them up. That's where a social worker can help. A social worker knows how to ask the hard questions in a gentle way.

So if you're thinking about these things and struggling with how to talk about them, ask your hospital or hospice social worker for help.

Saying Good-bye

When you know that death is near, just how do you say good-bye?

Some people hold big parties or gatherings, or have their families host them. Often the gatherings occur around holidays, and the significance of the gathering, even if not stated, is implicitly understood. 

Other people prefer more intimate good-byes. You may want to set aside time to speak with each of your closest family members and friends individually, or give them a gift or letter. Or you may prefer to be more informal and just ask loved ones to visit more often, and be sure to say "I love you" more frequently at each visit.

You may also want to leave something behind for your loved ones: a video, a scrapbook, letters, or photos. Ask your hospital, hospice, or palliative care program if they have volunteers who can work on putting something together with you.

When people are very near death, they are often no longer able to speak or communicate with those around them. That's why it's important to make sure that you've said your good-byes and had any other conversations you want to have with the people you love sooner, rather than later.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 30, 2013
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