How to have a great conversation with someone who is going to die

I recently read an article with this title and I found it interesting, provoking and brutal. It is an important subject, though. Often I find myself talking to people in this situation, admittedly it is an occupational hazard! The author of the article gives this advice to a fictional Alice who is talking to a fictional terminally ill Bob:

Here are the things that Alice can talk about that will make Bob happy:

  • Stories of old adventures they had together. Remember that time? Oh boy, yes I do… it was awesome!

  • Clinical details. Bob, stuck in his bed, is probably obsessed by the rituals of care, the staff, the medicines, and above all, his disease. I’ll come to Bob’s duty to share, in a second.

  • Helping Bob with technical details. Sorting out a life is complex and needs many hands and minds.

  • “I bought your book,” assuming Bob is an author like me. It may be flattery, or sincere, either way it’ll make Bob smile.

I suppose one of the questions in my mind is whether making Bob happy is the main aim – perhaps having a real and deep conversation is a better thing to do. The hospice movement has a concept of ‘Total Pain’ whereby emotional, physical, spiritual, social pain can all come together at the end of life. This can be a blessing because in the resolution of this pain comes a total healing and acceptance that perhaps the person has never enjoyed before. It is much deeper than mere happiness.

What do you think? Are you in this situation? What helps you?

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