How to Start a Caring Conversation with a Loved One Who is Ill

Organizing a Family Meeting

To help you begin a conversation with your loved one, we have a few suggestions that have helped other families:

  • Uninterrupted Time: Plan to get together when you aren’t on a tight schedule. Block out a few hours for this family meeting.
  • Quiet, Private Location: Meet in a private and quiet location. Someplace where you won’t be interrupted or have to contend with distractions.
  • Small Group: Try to limit the size of the group to keep your loved one from becoming overwhelmed. Having too many people involved might keep them from honestly expressing their feelings.
  • Open Ended Questions: The easiest way to start the conversation is with an open-ended question. It can be something as simple as asking them, “How are you feeling about things?”
  • Let Them Talk: While it might be difficult to watch your loved one struggle with expressing their feelings, it is important to let them try to do so without interrupting them. Be kind and patient. Give them the time they need to find the right words.
  • Convey Your Support: Use your body language to show your support. Nodding your head can convey understanding and empathy without interrupting the conversation.

While your ultimate goal for the family meeting may be to gain a better understanding of your loved one’s wishes for their future, avoid rushing the conversation and pushing them to make decisions more quickly than they are comfortable doing. When you sense that they are ready to move on and talk about their wishes for end of life care and future decisions, a few simple questions may help you transition the conversation:

  • “Do you have an attorney that helped you develop any legal documents such as living will or a power of attorney?”
  • “Have you given any thought to who you would like to represent your wishes if are unable to speak for yourself?”

Our final suggestion is to remember that it is unlikely that you will cover everything you need to in one family meeting. Unless you are in the middle of a crisis with your loved one’s health, give your senior loved one time to think through your discussion. Then you can talk again and decide how to best move forward and make decisions.

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