Early Conversations Save Later Heartache

By Lisa Pahl, LCSW 

It’s not always easy to ask difficult questions, even if it’s your job to do so.

It’s one of my responsibilities, as the hospice social worker, to explore whether the patient wants to be buried, cremated, donate their body to science, or perhaps be composted (legal in seven states).

This seems like something that would be discussed at some point in the patient’s life. This is often not the case.

And then, while on hospice, the patient or family may still not be open to discussing.

Sometimes the reasons are religious or cultural; a belief that speaking of death means not believing that a miracle can occur, or inviting death into the home by speaking of it.

More often, the situation is that the family has put off this conversation during the time when the patient was in relatively good health. There always seemed to be time for it. Or it seemed morbid. Or the kids didn’t want to think about their parents dying.

Once a person is seriously ill, starting this conversation has a different tone. It goes from being a gentle pondering about what the person envisions for their funeral, into a very emotionally charged conversation about planning for the end.

It is infinitely easier to have this conversation before it’s close to the end. Even if it’s just the start of a conversation, you then have a general idea that can be expanded upon in a much easier way than if you don’t know at all. You can then return to the conversation with a “I remember we talked about this long ago and you wanted to be cremated and your ashes spread at sea. Is that still what you want, Mom?”

Start these conversations early. If you need help, The Death Deck is here to create an environment to ask all sorts of end of life questions in a less threatening (and even playful) manner.

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