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For many families, the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays are the one time of year when everyone is together. If your family has a loved one who is living with a life-limiting illness or a senior whose health is declining, spending time together takes on even greater meaning. While it might seem difficult to do during the festivities of the season, talking with your loved one about their wishes for the future is usually best accomplished during face-to-face visits like this.

Talking with a Loved One about Their Wishes

To help you start those caring conversations, we have pulled together a few suggestions other families have found to be of benefit.

  • Try to find a quiet location where family members can all sit together to talk. A place where you aren’t going to be distracted or interrupted.

  • Don’t overwhelm your loved one by having too many people involved.

  • Begin with a simple question such as “How are you feeling?”

  • Let your loved one talk without being interrupted. If they have difficulty getting started, be patient. The silence will allow them time to find their voice.

  • Show empathy. You can do that by listening and nodding your head. Phrases such as “We know this can’t be easy” or “You’ve been through so much” can help convey you care.

  • Asking open-ended questions in a gentle, understanding voice is the best way to keep the conversation going.

While your goal may be to transition the discussion toward gaining a better understanding of their end-of-life wishes, try not to overwhelm them by moving too fast or by asking them to make quick decisions.

When you do move on to talking about their hopes for the rest of their life, a simple way to find out their wishes for the future is to ask:

  • “Have you ever talked with an attorney about documents like a health care power of attorney or a living will?”

  • “Have you thought about who you would like to speak for you if you are unable to speak for yourself?”

One final suggestion is to remember that this will likely be the first of several conversations your family will have about these topics. Unless your loved one’s health is at a crisis point, let them have time to process your discussions before asking them to make any decisions.

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