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With the holidays fast approaching and families gathering, here’s a great opportunity to let your loved ones know what your wishes are with regard to end-of-life issues.

It’s a delicate subject to raise, of course. Our culture is not very good at preparing us to talk about such a taboo subject. Our loved ones might have objections such as “Really? NOW?” or “Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?” but the reality is, having clarity about what we all want at the end of our lives benefits everyone. This clarity does need to be communicated, though, or it’s useless.

First, are you clear yourself about what you want? Do you have an advance care directive in place—where your loved ones can find it easily, as well as your medical provider? (The balancing act between being comfortable vs. lucidity vs. realistic treatment options must be thought through carefully. A medical professional, death doula, social worker or clergy can help talk through the issues with you if necessary.)

If you’re clear and comfortable with your decisions, one way to approach the topic is by using the case of a family member and saying — “I’d like that for me” or “I really don’t want to put you all through that.” Some people find it helpful to turn it into a game — laughter can help with the awkwardness. (See one possible example here.) Another possibility is to give everyone a sheet of paper to draw how they’d like to spend their last few days — or, even more important, how they WOULDN’T like to spend them.)

Most North Americans say they want to die at home, but the vast majority die in hospital. Having clarity about your wishes and conveying them to your loved ones definitely increases the chances of their being followed. Don’t wait until it’s too late, a scenario which is sadly all too common, and can lead to strife between loved ones. It’s a gift to your loved ones to be able to take the burden of hard decisions off their shoulders; they have enough to be dealing with already!

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