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Talking about Your Final Wishes

Talking about Your Final Wishes

Death is a natural part of life - but for most of us, talking about it isn't. Most people are uncomfortable talking, or even thinking, about what will happen when they or a loved one dies.

But, avoiding the topic doesn't stop death from happening. Not talking about it doesn't ease the pain associated with loss. Many people avoid talking about end of life because of their fears: suffering, pain, separation from loved ones and the unknown. These fears keep them from dealing with life's final lesson and make it harder to plan their lives as they wish. Not talking can make it harder for those left behind.

Why is it so important?
Most of us hope that we will die quickly, but the fact is that many of us will die after a long, slow decline. That's why talking and planning for your death is so important to your well-being and your loved ones' peace of mind.

Facing our fears is the first step towards planning for the future. Talking and planning for your death is the best way to ensure that your wishes will be fulfilled. It can ensure you will be able to live your life to the fullest until the end and live it the way you want.

Making decisions about how you want to spend your final days is not simple. There are many factors and options available today that may influence your care at the end of life. Where do I want to die? Who will take care of me? What do I have to do to achieve a "good death?" These questions raise just a few of the issues to be considered in deciding your care at the end of life.

Another focus is on what kind of treatment you want during your final days. While some of the issues related to end-of-life care haven't changed for generations, new issues make decisions even more challenging. Also, health care has changed so quickly that there are new medical technologies and treatments that can extend your life well beyond its natural course.

When you were born, your parents spent nine months preparing for your birth. This same kind of planning should be applied at the end of life. Talking and planning for death are the very acts that may allow you to live a fuller and more comfortable life in your final days.

How to Begin
The first conversation you must have is with yourself, to find out what your feelings are regarding your own death.

  • Where do you want to die? At home? In a hospital or medical facility? Do you want to move to be closer to relatives, friends or other loved ones?
  • What kind of medical treatment do you want? What don't you want?
  • Who do you want to take care of you?
  • What do you think is a " good death? "
  • What kind of funeral services do you want?
  • Where do you want to be buried?

Once you have decided on what you want, use advance directives to write your wishes down. Advance directives are formal documents that explicitly describe your wishes for care near the end. There are two kinds of advance directives:

  • A Living Will. This document specifies your wishes regarding medical treatment, generally the refusal of life-prolonging treatment when death is imminent.
  • A Health Care Power of Attorney. This document allows you to appoint someone you trust to act for you and to make decisions about your medical treatment if you are unable to do so.

Now tell your loved ones and doctor what you want. By beginning the conversation with them, you are giving them comfort and peace of mind to follow your wishes.

AARP Resources

AARP on Caregiving
If you caring for an older parent or loved one, this series of articles can help.

Final Details
The basic actions you need to take after the death of a loved one.

States Get Low Marks for End of Life Care
The findings of "Means to a Better End: A Report on Dying in America Today," a study grading states on policy and quality of care for the dying.

Additional Resources

Making Decisions: Thinking Through Your Wishes
The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, a survivor-led advocacy organization, discusses decisions to make for end of life care.

Communicating Your End of Life Wishes
The National Hospice Foundation discusses ways you can talk to your family about your end of life wishes.


Find these books online at

"Dying Well: Peace and Possibilities at the End of Life," Ira Byock, Riverhead Trade, 1998.

"What Dying People Want: Practical Wisdom for the End of Life," David Kuhl, Public Affairs, 2002.

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