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How do I talk to my father about his end-of-life plans?


Question:  My father was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. I want to talk with him about what he would like for his end-of-life plans but I don't have any idea how to start the conversation. He never has liked to talk about personal things. Do you have any ideas about how I can approach this? 

Dr. Amy: Starting these types of conversations is often difficult. Sometimes people do better when they can discuss difficult topics in small doses.  Therefore, it might help to remind yourself that you likely will have several conversations about his wishes—not one big conversation.  

Before you begin, make sure you are clear about what you want to ask. You might want to write down your questions so you don't forget them when you speak with your father.  

Watch your father's reactions closely, when you talk with him. Listen carefully. By doing this, you'll be able to see when he has talked about the topic enough for that day.

Finally, tell your father how much peace of mind it will give you to know his wishes. Often people talk more freely about these difficult topics when they know how much it means to their family.  

Talking about end of life wishes can be very stressful for people who don't talk much about personal matters. Being clear about your motivation and taking the ‘small doses' approach will make the task much easier for you both.

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Thoughts and stories from others
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  2. November 5, 2020 at 4:50 am | Posted by Jermaine Malone

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  3. February 22, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Posted by Robert

    My mom is 98 and doing well but it is also very hard to discuss end-of-life plans with her. Probably mostly OUR issue - 5 siblings. We had the Dr. bring it up and she was very open to it, no heroic resusitation, etc. The financial stuff was handled a long time ago by the family attorney which is invaluable now. Best of luck. Robert


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