It can be tough to initiate “The Talk” about health, legal, financial and end-of-life issues with an aging parent, but one conversation can make all the difference. According to the Conversation Project, 9 in 10 Americans want to discuss their loved ones’ and their own end-of-life care, but approximately 3 in 10 Americans have actually had these types of conversations.

But how do you begin the conversation about the end of life? First, it’s important to understand that “The Talk” really isn’t a one-time thing. It’s simply the first in a series of conversations over time. It’s completely normal to encounter resistance the first time you bring it up, so don’t be discouraged. Just plan to try again at another time.

Do Your Homework

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Before you can ask your loved one such important questions, it’s vital that you prepare for the conversation. Do your homework so you understand the options for end-of-life care, and complete your own advance directive so you understand what it’s like to answer difficult questions about your own wishes.

Set the Setting

When you are ready for the conversation, pick a good time and a place where everyone will feel comfortable to have the conversation. There are a few ways you can start the conversation, but it always helps to express how much you want to help your loved one stay as independent as possible for as long as possible and to have their wishes followed after they pass away.

Start the Conversation

Here are some ways you can ask permission to bring up end-of-life care:

  • “If you ever got sick, I would be afraid of not knowing the kind of care you would like. Could we talk about this now? I would feel better if we did.”
  • “So, you were always disappointed that Grandma died all alone in the hospital. What would you like to be different for you when you reach that time?”
  • “I just answered some questions about how I want the end of my life to be. I want you to see my answers, and I’m wondering what your answers would be.”

Be a Good Listener

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Once you’ve opened the conversation about death and dying, ask your loved one to consider the following questions:

  • If you were diagnosed with a life-limiting illness, what types of treatment would you prefer?
  • Have you named someone to make decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so?
  • How would you like your choices honored at the end of life?
  • What can I do to best support you and your choices?

Remember, it’s a conversation, not a debate, so hear and understand what your loved one is saying, and show empathy and respect by addressing how your loved one’s wishes can be honored at the end of life. Use their answers to complete two important legal documents — a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care — that explicitly describe their wishes for care near the end.

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