Advance care planning series: Talk

Second in a four-part series outlining the basics of advance care planning: Think, Talk, Choose, Complete


Advance care planning is not the easiest subject to talk about, but discussing your wishes with your loved ones and health care team are some of the most meaningful conversations you’ll ever have. They can also be some of the hardest to get started.

If you’ve started the first step of the four-part process, Think, you will be better prepared to begin talking to your loved ones and caregivers.

Roughly 90 percent of people agree that discussing the specifics of their health care wishes is important, but only 27 percent of them have actually done so, according to a study by The Conversation Project, an organization that offers tools to facilitate “the talk.” 

This month we’ll look at ways to dive into the Talk stage, the second part of the four-step process—Think, Talk, Choose, Complete—outlined by the Institute for Human Caring to help you discuss your goals and wishes.

Talking to your loved ones

Getting the conversation started is often the most difficult step when sharing your priorities for your final health care wishes. You may hear things like “Oh stop it dad, you’re still young” or “Mom, you’ve got a lot of years left in the tank” from family members, but remember it’s never too early to get started on this journey.

Download this guide about starting the conversation.

Begin with the basics and determine:

Who do you want to talk to? Are there people like your parents, spouse, or children that you think should know your wishes? What about close friends or siblings? Making a list of everyone you think should be informed helps you create a manageable way to begin “the talk.”

When is a good time to talk? Do you want to do it all at once during a family get together? Or maybe several conversations spread out over a few months would be more your style. There’s no set schedule that’s best for everyone, choose a timeframe that works for you.

Where do you want to talk? Do you like sitting casually around the kitchen table or would you prefer a more public setting like a restaurant or a park? Perhaps your church has a community room that’s available for the asking. Finding a comfortable place will help even when the conversation makes you a little uneasy.

What do you want to say? Making a list can help here too. Write down the most important points you want to make to ensure they all get said. You don’t have to type up an official agenda, just jot down the main points you want to cover and let the conversation flow from there. Use this checklist from the Think as a starting point.

Practice makes perfect

Even if things don’t go perfectly at first, each conversation you have about the care you want empowers you and your loved ones to live out your final days in a way that preserves your dignity and honors your wishes.

  • Be patient. This can be a difficult topic that requires time to process—for both you and your loved ones. It may take several conversations to fully cover all that needs to be said.
  • Don’t judge. Your loved ones may have different opinions on what constitutes a “good” death than you do. Listen with love and compassion to what they have to say.
  • Be open. Don’t attempt to control the conversation.
  • Remember it’s not set in stone. If your circumstances or priorities change, you can always change your mind about what you want. Just be sure to talk about it with the people who care about and for you.

These conversations may not be easy but they are important. The best to time talk is before a crisis happens. The best time to talk is now.

Find a doctor

If you are looking for a primary care doctor who listens with empathy and understanding when you talk about the way you want to handle your final health care wishes, you can search for one that’s right for you in our provider directory. Or you can find one using a regional directory below:







Related resources

Institute for Human Caring

Advance care planning series: Think

The Conversation Project

Talk about what matters: One Man's Story of Honoring His Wife's Last Wishes

Talking advance directives with actress Shar Jackson and Dr. Ira Byock

As parents age, families face questions

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

About the Author

From how to identify and treat heart diseases to exercise tips to maintain an active lifestyle, the Providence Senior's Health team is committed to providing real-world advice that is hyper-relevant to helping those 65+ find ways stay young at heart

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