Words matter a lot at the end of life. Being the messenger of bad news is not an easy task but it is a very important one. Demystifying common clinical situations such as the impact of medications and using simple language can allow families to create a road map that may assist them in preparing for death. When clear and compassionate communication takes place, it can make a meaningful and long-lasting impact on a family for years to come.
Everyone has their own particular way of seeing the world or hearing things. Your goal is to be on the same page with families as much as is possible. Your non-verbal behaviour is as important, if not more important, than the words you use.
If you begin with a deep and genuine respect for the family and their experience, you will then be able to build an effective professional relationship based on trust. Be gentle, honest, straightforward and realistic. Being humble about the limits of your knowledge can further strengthen your ties with families.
Helping patients and families to have a clear understanding of what is happening and what to expect will require your patience, empathy and good communication skills. Most people will be able to tell if you’re making an effort to do your best for them; and this will take you a long way when navigating difficult conversations.