​Kathryn, a 45-year-old teacher, wife and mother, has a hectic schedule that begins the moment her feet hit the floor at 5:30 a.m. and often doesn’t end until late evening. When she learned one of her fellow teachers, a young mother of three, had terminal cancer, her mind went in many directions.

One question kept nagging at her: “What if something like this happened to me? How would I handle it, and what would it mean for my family?” As Kathryn reflected on the fragility of life, she became more convinced that a conversation with her family was critical - regarding her wishes and those of her husband.

Telling loved ones about the end-of-life care we want isn’t easy. Almost everyone agrees the conversation is important, but no one wants to have it. In fact, a recent poll found that 95 percent of U.S. adults believe telling their families about their wishes is necessary, but only 60 percent have talked about it. However, experts agree that the best time to start the conversation is early, when we are still healthy, and before a medical crisis occurs. 

Holiday gatherings provide an opportunity to begin giving this some thought. Below are five tips to make the process a little easier and to get you started:

1. Have a plan as to how you will share your wishes - A free booklet called “Courage in Conversation” from Hospice of the Western Reserve is available to anyone needing help on how to get started. A simple one-page worksheet in the front of the booklet will walk you through the process and help you define what your wishes are. 

2. Pick the right time for your talk - It’s a tough subject, so reassure your loved one by acknowledging that upfront.  You might say: “This isn’t easy for me to talk about. And I know it’s hard for you to think about, too, but it’s important to my peace of mind.” 

3. Think about asking a family member for help - Saying, “I need your help with something” can be a good way to get the dialogue started. Most family members want to be helpful. Explain that you don’t want to burden them with difficult decisions later. 

4. Start out by sharing a story about someone else - Discussing someone other than yourself at first will make the conversation less scary for your loved one and may encourage them to open up.

5. Share the information in small segments - Allow time for your family members to digest the information and respond to you. Don’t rush things.  Realistically, you will probably need to have several discussions. Remember, your goal right now is simply to start the process.

The planning process doesn't happen overnight. It will take thought, emotional readiness and time to sort out the options. Sharing your choices through conversation is an important first step. In the long run, the conversations will be the greatest gift to those you love, giving them the confidence to act knowingly on your behalf, and giving you the comfort of knowing that your wishes will be honored. To get the conversation started, visit hospicewr.org/Courage