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Getting Grandma to Talk About Wishes

by Viki Kind, End-of-Life Expert
July 07, 2011

Question: My grandmother won’t talk about her end-of-life wishes. What can I do to make her talk?


1. Have the conversation as a family instead of just talking to the “old” people in the family.

It is much easier to talk about these issues when we do it as a group so invite the family over and talk about what is important to each of you. You will need to get copies of your state’s Advanced Directives for Healthcare Decisions (Living Will) for everyone who is going to attend. You can begin to role model the conversation by saying, “This is important for all of us to do. I am going to share with you what is important to me so if anything happens, then you will know what to tell the doctor.”   When you are brave enough to start, others will join in.  These questions will help you begin the conversation.  (For more guidance go to

How you would like to be comforted?
What makes you feel better or worse when you are sick?
Do you like the covers tucked in or your feet out?
Do you want people around or do you like to be left alone?

What type of living after a health crisis is acceptable to you? 
Write down what would make for a meaningful recovery for you.
Would it be okay with you if your brain wasn’t working and you couldn’t recognize your loved ones?
Would it be okay with you to live in a nursing home?
Would it be okay with you if you couldn’t move your body anymore?

What would be important to you if you were dying?
Where would you want to die?
Who should be there?
What music should be played?
What prayers, if any, should be said?

2. Go to and play the game.

The GoWish game helps you decide what is important to you.  Print out your answers and give them to your family and doctors.  They also have a set of cards you can order to help your family talk together.

3. Talk about wanting to show your grandmother respect.

The end-of-life conversation is ultimately about respect.  Ask your grandmother how you can show her respect at the end of her life.  Ask her what is important for the doctor to know about her so he can treat her with respect.  You can also talk about disrespect and what she would hate to have happen. 

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Viki Kind is a clinical bioethicist, professional speaker, and hospice volunteer. Her book, The Caregiver’s Path to Compassionate Decision Making: Making Choices For Those Who Can't,” guides families and professionals through the difficult process of advocating for those who can no longer speak for themselves. She has recently launched a DVD that includes a template to create a quality-of-life statement.

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