Discussing End-of-Life Wishes

Dear Barbara, I recently found out I am to be the Power of Attorney for my parents (who are in their 80s). I am interested in resource material that can guide me in how to discuss end of life wishes with them. They are healthy.


First, there are two kinds of Power of Attorney. One addresses financial and estate issues, a Power of Attorney. The other is a Durable Medical Power of Attorney. It addresses ONLY medical issues. You want both so that when your parents can’t speak for themselves medically you can speak and act for them in that regard also.

It isn’t enough to just have the medical power of attorney for them, you have to find out what your parents' wishes are. What are their thoughts on end of life issues, on use of narcotics, on artificial feeding, on DNR (Do Not  Resuscitate), on CPR (cardio/pulmonary resuscitation), on being a No Code?

It is a tough conversation to have. People are often reticent to talk about dying. We have it in our heads that if we talk about dying and death that will make it happen. If we play the ostrich game we won’t tempt fate. In the back of our minds we believe that other people die, not me, and not anyone close to me. So who needs plans?

I often get the question, "How do I start an end of life discussion? How do I get my family to talk about what they want their dying to be like?” My answer? Just ask them. You may be surprised at how open the conversation will be, how much you will learn, how easy it will be.

Consider this for the reason you need to have “the conversation:” If you don’t have someone speak for you (a durable medical power of attorney) or if you as a durable medical power of attorney don’t know what the person would do if they could speak for themselves, the medical establishment will make the decision for you and for your loved one. If you don’t spell out your wishes or know your person’s wishes about end of life issues the medical profession will do EVERYTHING it can to keep the heart beating and the body breathing, under any circumstances. Even if the body can’t.

So back to how you talk with someone about end of life plans ——-Just say, "You probably don't want to talk about this but we need to. Please hear me out." And begin the conversation. You can Google Advance Directive forms and print them out. Also, you might want to look at Five Wishes (fivewishes.org). As you fill out the forms, together, talk about each section. When it's done, it's done. Put it in a safe place and move on enjoying life.

Something more... about Discussing End-of-Life Wishes

While everyone is healthy and calm you may want to watch my film, NEW RULES for End of Life Care together.  It is a tool for having "the conversation." It will answer so many questions about what normal, natural dying looks like and how to advocate for the kind of care that they/you want.  Another tool for this discussion is The Death Deck- a card game that asks the questions in a fun way. 

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Christine A. Smith

I shared this link and told everyone I’m so glad I signed up for your emails. Excellent content, Barbara!


My parents are off-planet now, but caring for them and their post-life wishes led both my brothers and their spouses and I to gather ‘round at a point afterwards and discuss the need for our own final wishes, etc.
Starting the discussion as a group made it easier, as humor softened the seriousness nature of what we were discussing.
In one’s family, I believe it is important to remember that end of life has no waving flag next to it, and children’s and spouse’s lives can be forever changed through sudden loss.
We realized we were ‘assuming’ that certain things would be done a certain way, like children staying in the family, but we actually had no way to ensure that happening without our final wishes being in writing.

Thank you for all your comforting education. I would never have handled the loss of my parents without your words of guidance.
BK Books replied:
Hi Maria, You are so right. We don’t realize what we don’t know about another’s affairs until we become personally responsible for dealing with them. Why we need Advanced Directives. Blessings! Barbara


lots of good information here, thank you!

Happy Bailey

Thank you for your commitment to end of life situations. You always make them so calming and logical. Your books and emails made my sisters journey so much easier for all of us.
Thank you!!!

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