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Discussing the Delicate Issue of Dying

Candor can be the kindest approach.

A friend recently worked with an attorney to create a living trust; just in case, she told the man, “something happens to me.” He startled her by laughing, saying, “It’s not a matter of if, but when.”

Each of us is born with a terminal condition: life. Eventually, life will culminate in that condition no one likes to contemplate: death.

Assuming we have the good fortune to avoid getting hit by the proverbial bus, at some point we will have to come to terms with the end of our earthly existence. Often, people do not want to hear that they are dying. Their families and physicians may be equally reluctant to state the stark facts. As a result, extreme measures may continue when doctors know they are futile, while palliative care is not begun as soon as it should.

Conversations About Impending Death Can Lead to Higher Quality of Life

Hospice professionals believe this beating-around-the-bush is a mistake. The medical profession also is beginning to understand the dangers of circumlocution.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology has created a straightforward booklet (cancer.net) that discusses choices, ranging from standard care to symptom relief. It provides guidance on how to maximize one’s remaining days. Although specific to cancer, the information is widely applicable.

Each of us wants to live as fully as possible until the end. Hospice provides that opportunity. I ardently believe that it is better to consider hospice earlier in the process, when it can be of the most benefit to those who are dying ... and to those who love them.

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