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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 23, 2005

Talk with your family about dying

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer

Clarence Liu, chaplain of Hospice Hawaii, remembers a Hawaiian family whose young mother went away to die quietly, but not before asking her husband and oldest daughter to keep her illness quiet so that the family would not be upset.

That caused such dissension in the family that when it was time for the father to die, he took the opposite approach: Everyone knew. The death was a time of openness, even turning into a party, with food and singing. His choice of death helped heal the family's wounds.

Liu offered these talking points for families approaching end-of-life decisions:

• Recognize the conversation is difficult, so do it early.

• Explain that knowing a parent's wishes make it easier for the survivors. Even phrase it as, "Knowing these things will make it easier on the kids."

• Start with general questions: "What do you feel about the future and life's ending?" How they react will let you know how slowly and gingerly you should go.

• As you get more specific, ask, "What is your optimum scenario for dying?" From that, you might get a lot of preferences and fears.

• Now, get to the fine points. "What kind of medical treatment do you want/not want?" "Who in the family would like to make healthcare decisions, when you're unable to?"