Life Matters Media
Start the most difficult conversation American isn’t having- the conversation about our end of life preferences

Conversation Starters And Tips For Talking About End Of Life Wishes During Holidays


Although the holiday season can be a stressful time, it also provides prime opportunities for frank discussions about end of life plans among family and close friends.

As millions of Americans prepare to visit loved ones, Washington University psychologist Brian Carpenter hopes that many take some time to make their end of life care wishes known. Such conversations should occur before a serious illness or unexpected medical emergency.

Carpenter, who studies family relations in later life, teaches courses on death and dying and the psychology of aging. He has compiled a list of five key discussion topics for families this season: Housing, Medical Care, Finances, End of Life Decision-Making, the Big Picture.

  • Housing: Are you happy where you live? If you couldn’t live here any longer, where would you want to go? Would you want to live with family or friends? What type of housing would you prefer?
  • Medical Care: If you were in a difficult medical situation, what treatments would you not want? How do you feel about your ability to tolerate pain versus taking medication that might help you feel less pain, but also less alert?
  • Finances: What are your investments, assets and liabilities? Where are your financial records located? Who would you like to manage your finances if you could no longer do so yourself?
  • End of Life Decision-Making: What do you want to have happen to your body after death? Do you want to donate organs? What kind of funeral service do you want?
  • The Big Picture: How do you think your life is playing out? What would be important to you as you approach the end of your life? What do you want to try to accomplish before you die?

Although 90 percent of Americans say it is important to have end of life conversations with their loved ones, less than one-third have had such conversations, according to the Institute of Medicine.

“For many people, these conversations are difficult because it’s hard for people to imagine a time in the future when they, or the people that they care about, might be frail or more dependent,” Carpenter told Life Matters Media. “It’s hard to imagine. It’s a hard psychological process.”

He recommends people have end of life conversations in “small bites,” partly because not everything can or should be covered in one sitting.

“We encourage people to take small steps and recognize that these are conversations that need to happen over time,” he said. “It’s not just ‘one and done.’ People change and their circumstances change as they move through life.”

Carpenter said he expects conversation about death and dying to become much more common as millions of baby boomers age and begin caring for elderly parents.

“We know already that baby boomers have reshaped culture as they have moved through their lives,” he said. “I’m confident that they’ll do the same as they approach old age and the end of their lives. They’re a big enough group and a powerful enough group that we’ll see some changes.”


– Image courtesy WikiMedia Commons and OakleyOriginals