Difficult Conversations about Hospice Care

Family members and caregivers often feel uncomfortable talking about death and dying with terminally ill loved ones. But, if you don’t talk about death, how will you know what your loved one wants?

Talking about hospice care does not mean there is nothing else that can be done. It also doesn’t mean there is no hope or death is coming soon. It may actually be comforting to talk about end-of-life care options. These conversations may provide great grounding and solace for decisions that will have to be made as you and those you love face the end of life.

Many professionals suggest a person think about hospice long before he or she faces a medical crisis.

Who should you talk to?
The conversation about end-of-life care may begin with anyone. Eventually, the loved one with a life-limiting illness should talk with family members, his or her primary physician and hospice staff.

When should you start the conversation?
A number of events can trigger a conversation about hospice care:
• When a loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal illness
• When a loved one has experienced repeated trips to the emergency room or hospitalizations
• When a loved one’s condition has steadily or significantly declined
• When a loved one is discouraged by, tired from or requests no further treatment
• When a physician suggests hospice care during a routine visit

How do you start a conversation about hospice?
As with any serious topic, beginning the conversation can be difficult, but creating an optimal time and place or looking for cues can ease the discussion. Choose a private and relaxed time, free from distractions. Look for an opening; listen for comments about the condition, about giving up, being tired of trips to the hospital or just wanting to be comfortable.

Try these conversation starters:
“That last hospital stay seemed hard on you. I think there’s a way we can avoid future hospitalizations.”
“We can manage your care right here, at home.”
“You don’t have to be in pain anymore; Hospice can help. They’re experts in pain management and caring for people with this illness.”
“Lately, you seem to be struggling more with breathing, walking and eating.”
“I’d like to call Hospice of the Red River Valley for you so we can see how they might be able to help to you.”

Conversations about death and end of life aren’t necessarily easy to have, but they are critical to the well-being of those we love. Finding a way around the awkward talk may bring great comfort and peace of mind not just to you, but also to your loved ones as they navigate this journey with you.


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