Unless death is imminent, too many of us find the thought of it so frightening and vague that we prefer not to think about it. Kathy Kortes-Miller, author of Talking About Death Won’t Kill You, is a palliative care provider and a cancer survivor. She knows that by talking about death now, we can not only have a better death, but a better life.
1. Use the D-words.
Death, dying, and dead. Clear language rather than euphemisms such as “passed away” or “transitioned” can help loved ones recognize end of life as a normal event and provide better support.
2. Ask your health care providers questions about death.
Even doctors can be uncomfortable having end-of-life conversations. But insist. “We need to empower ourselves as consumers of the health care system to engage in those conversations,” Kortes-Miller said.
3. Research for your death.
“Just like you’re preparing for a trip or going out and researching a car,” Kortes-Miller said. Ask yourself what your version of a “good death” looks like.
4. Take advantage of the little things.
Anyone diagnosed with a life-limiting or terminal illness knows that it makes everyday activities more important—a lesson everyone can use. “That goes into bringing the way we live into the way we die,” Kortes-Miller said. What simple pleasures can you incorporate into your end-of-life plan?
5. Let your loved ones know you’re going to lean on them for support when the time comes.
“Dying can be hard work for people,” Kortes-Miller said. According to the National Institute on Aging, dying often brings on depression or anxiety. Strong family and community ties can help ease stress and make for a more comfortable death.
6. Think about what kind of legacy you want to leave.
Kortes-Miller’s aunt wanted her funeral attendees to wear clown noses to remind friends and family of her sense of humor. How do you want your loved ones to remember you? What do you want your descendants to know, and how might that change the way you live your life?
7. Consider a different bucket list.
If you died suddenly, what have you left unsaid to people in your life? What do you want to have achieved? “Those are the things that can help as a guide to living,” Kortes-Miller said.