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End-of-Life Planning: The Elephant in the Room

elephant sitting on chair

There’s an elephant in the room and one conversation about it can make all the difference. November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month and although it can certainly be sad to think about the possibility of dying or losing a family member, avoiding the topic does not postpone or delay the possibility of it happening to you. Rather, end-of-life planning can not only provide a sense of relief and calm to you, it can also be a huge burden lifted for your family, friends and loved ones.

We’ve all heard stories from friends or relatives about how stressful it can be when family members are suddenly faced with making major decisions for loved ones at the end of life. Without the benefit of knowing what their loved one wants, relationships can become strained over differences of opinion.  Instead of supporting one another, family members may become divided over trying to do what they each think is best. So, as difficult as it might be to think about having these conversations now, it can make an enormous difference later. Lakewood wants to encourage you to lean in and at least start the conversation. Take it slowly. Acknowledge it may feel uncomfortable. Then take a deep breath and start talking.

But first, let’s start with a bit of education on palliative and hospice care and the differences between the two. Lakewood Health System is proud to offer both important care services.

What is palliative care?  Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness. This type of care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is not just about managing symptoms as death draws near, it is an entire approach to care that takes into consideration physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs. When started early, studies show it can not only improve quality of life—in some cases, it can extend it.

What is hospice care? Hospice care is a special kind of care that focuses on the quality of life for people and their caregivers who are experiencing an advanced, life-limiting illness. Hospice care provides compassionate care for people in the last phases of incurable disease so that they may live as fully and comfortably as possible. The hospice philosophy accepts death as the final stage of life: it affirms life but does not try to hasten or postpone death. Hospice care treats the person and symptoms of the disease, rather than treating the disease itself. A team of professionals work together to manage symptoms so a person’s last days may be spent with dignity and quality, surrounded by their loved ones. Hospice care is also family-centered – it includes the patient and the family in making decisions.

So how do I start a conversation around end-of-life care?
The Conversation Project is dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care. It provides a free Conversation Starter Kit that provides you with tips and suggestions about how to begin the discussion with your loved ones around advanced care planning and end-of-life. You can download this starter kit by visiting

Although no guide or single conversation can cover all the decisions you and your family may face, it can provide a shared understanding of what matters most to you and your loved ones. This can make it easier to make decisions when the time comes.

If you have questions about starting conversations about end-of-life care or finding out more about palliative and hospice care at Lakewood Health System, talk to your provider. Many times, family members have doubts or regrets after a loved one dies. They wonder if they did everything they could to make the process as. Preparing ahead of time and communicating your wishes before a medical crisis can help prevent these doubts.