The holidays can bring mixed emotions to families that are facing increased caregiving for a loved one. No one likes to think this may be the last holiday together, yet in some cases you know it’s a strong possibility.
When illness is chronic and prolonged, or when frailty and old age impact the quality of life, there are measures we can take so that death is a dignified and comfortable process.
Making these decisions isn’t easy. In some cases, the patient doesn’t wish to discuss it. In others, family and friends may have difficulty accepting the inevitable. But starting a conversation around end-of-life issues can give a person an increased feeling of control. And in some cases make people with long-term illnesses feel better.
Watching someone you love slip away can be an overwhelming process. Of course you want to do everything possible to keep that person with you for as long as possible. It’s difficult knowing where to begin.
In most cases, the earlier you think about the process, consider your options and your feelings, the easier it is to discuss your options with those you love. It can help clarify decisions about the end of life process. It can ensure everyone has a chance to air their values, beliefs, hopes and fears.
Open ended questions will help open the dialogue:
- What makes life worth living?
- At what point is life not worth living?
- If you knew end of life was coming, what would make you comfortable?
- What would you avoid at end of life?
- How much control would you have facing a terminal illness?
It’s also important to stretch beyond questions about immediate health:
- Whom do you want to make decisions for you if you can’t make them yourself? Consider both financial and health related decisions.
- What medical treatments are acceptable to you?
- Do you wish to be resuscitated if you stop breathing or your heart stops beating?
- What if there is no hope for full recovery?
- Do you want to be hospitalized or somewhere else?
- How will your family be prepared for your decisions?
It’s important to note that this process isn’t the same for everyone. In your own family, everyone will process at a different level.
In every case, we will feel the pain of grief for those we love. But letting them go isn’t about our needs or about the medical community’s need to try and heal no matter what the outcome. Ultimately it is about respecting the wishes of our loved one and reducing their suffering to help them die with dignity.