7 Tips to Inspire Meaningful Thanksgiving Conversation

7 Tips to Inspire Meaningful Thanksgiving Conversation

As Thanksgiving approaches, many of us are anticipating the joy of sharing a good meal, reveling in fellowship with our loved ones, and celebrating our lives together with laughter and lively chatter. We’ll gather around a table decked with decorations and overflowing with delicious food.

Meaningful Thanksgiving Conversation

Photo courtesy: Thinkstock / Catherine Yeulet

Conversation will ebb and flow as we catch up on one another’s lives. The topics will probably be familiar. The annual recounting of a favorite family story will be followed by accolades for Mom’s moist turkey. If your family is like ours, each person might share one thing for which he is grateful.

Family gatherings offer an incredible opportunity to delve more deeply into matters of the heart.

Don’t miss it this year!

Carve out  (pun intended!) time to foster meaningful Thanksgiving conversation. Consider making time to explore one another’s preferences for future emergency and end-of-life health care. What a blessing it would be to proactively share your wishes with loved ones—instead of waiting until a crisis.

Facing rapid-fire treatment questions from an emergency physician regarding an unconscious patient—Mom or Dad or your spouse or you—can lead to poor decisions, and sometimes, family battles if the patient’s wishes are unknown or unclear. In the crisis, we are not good decision-makers. Heightened emotions cause panic and confusion. Family dynamics are amplified. Disagreements abound.

Instead, explore the end-of-life journey together now, before the emergency happens. Mark this year as the year your family shared meaningful Thanksgiving conversation.

Introducing end-of-life conversations requires courage. Someone needs to initiate the discussion.

Is that you? Absolutely!

Following these seven principles will ensure you orchestrate a successful conversation:

  1. Be proactive. Instead of blindsiding your family, send an email in advance sharing your intention to raise a few questions at the Thanksgiving dinner table to start family conversation about end-of-life care preferences.
  2. Be inclusive. Instead of focusing on one person, such as an aging parent, ask everyone to participate in the discussion.
  3. Be genuine. Share from your heart your desire to walk through the end-of-life journey for every family member—when his or her time comes—with grace, peace and family unity. The goal: to honor one another’s treatment preferences with confidence and peace of mind.
  4. Be gentle. If this is the first family discussion about end-of-life care, start gently. Instead of leading with, “Mom, do you want to be resuscitated?” you could refer to a recent event, such as the November decision of Brittany Maynard to end her life on her own terms due to terminal brain cancer. Using a family story or a recent event can foster natural conversation to open the dialogue.
  5. Be clear. Explain that the goal of the conversations your family will have in the coming months and years is to encourage everyone to clearly communicate his or her future healthcare preferences in the form of a legal healthcare directive. The process might unfold over several months. You could set a goal that everyone will have a completed directive by next Thanksgiving.
  6. Be a team. Proactively enlist a sibling or spouse to lead the discussion with you. Having a co-leader will help you stay accountable to start the discussion. You can support one another if you encounter any resistance.
  7. Be a leader. Write your own healthcare directive first. You will have far more credibility and compassion if you’ve invested both time and energy to wade through the emotional, spiritual and medical considerations for your own end-of-life care. Your example will inspire other members of your family.

The Conversation Project offers some terrific tools to assist you. Chapter 11 from my book is devoted to starting caring conversations. The resource page from my web site offers myriad articles, books and tools. This post from the Senior Care Corner touches on a wider range of topics for family discussion.

Step up and be a leader. Break the family silence. You and your loved ones will have peace of mind in the present and in the future knowing you are prepared to face healthcare decisions for any family member. Now that’s a reason to give thanks!

QUESTION: If you have initiated family conversations about end-of-life care, please leave a reply to share your suggestions and tips. We can all benefit from one another’s experience!



Have you chosen your healthcare agents? Do you feel confident that your agents are willing and ready to advocate for your wishes?

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