Know your stuff: Research your disease and take a detailed list of questions to your doctor. If you need support, take along a friend or family member. Ask to tape record the medical interview so you can remember all the details of the conversation.
Build teams: When you talk to your doctor, nurses, social workers, clergy and other caregivers, think of them as colleagues, all interested in the same thing – helping you live your life to the fullest in the time you have left.
Learn from others: Call a local hospice or hospital to find support groups or education programs for people facing the same medical or caregiving challenges you are.
Share experiences: Get your group – say, church or senior center – to discuss the experiences (good and bad) that members have had with friends and family who have died recently.
Plan proactively: Discuss a treatment plan for your remaining time with your loved ones. Discuss your medical options (living will and healthcare proxy) and desired funeral arrangements. Give your doctor a copy of your completed directives.
Don’t waste time: Share with your loved ones what you’d like to do with the remaining time in your life – travel or getting together with old friends, for example. Be realistic, but set down your plans in detail and take action.
Tie up loose ends: Think about what the unresolved issues are for you and your family, and what you can do to achieve some closure. For example, tell someone you forgive him or her for a past conflict. Get closure for the unfinished parts of your life.
Tell your story: Make a video or audiotape for your children or grandchildren, telling them stories of your life and candidly sharing your feelings for them.
Write it down: Think of writing as a conversation with yourself. Writing about your life in its final stages may not cure your illness, but finding words to describe what you’re feeling can be emotionally comforting and help you find meaning.
Look for the window of opportunity: If your illness worsens and you are trying to balance life-prolonging treatments with your quality of life, it might be time for you to consider dying as the next stage of your life. The more you talk with others and prepare, the more likely you are to be able to maintain control and dignity and achieve a sense of peacefulness in the time that remains.