Along my career path, I’ve participated in several exit interviews—final conversations with my bosses about any number of matters regarding my past and future work. With my supervisor, I could review the final details of my separation; learn important information that might be useful for the next steps in my life and receive affirmations about my past service along with best wishes for my future. Rarely did these interviews devolve into gab sessions or whining festivals. Instead, they stayed focused on what could be useful for the organization I was leaving, and for me as well. The discussions were about big-picture matters that might have been lost in the day-to-day work of the organization. The conversation was personal and emotionally satisfying.
I’m intrigued about the possibility that, on a metaphoric level, some of the basic elements of exit interviews could help enhance important conversations with loved ones during our final days. There seem to be some similarities with end-of-life matters:
• An exit is on the horizon.
• There are important matters that should be addressed, but may fall through the cracks.
• Conversations at a time like this can be difficult to begin or engage in purposefully.
• Those most closely affected by the exit sincerely want to talk with each other.
• A loose format or set of expectations can be helpful to begin and center the conversation.
What would a series of focused end-of-life chats feel and look like? I can envision a family acknowledging that their loved one was approaching death—a process perhaps facilitated by hospice personnel—and then embarking on a mutually pleasurable set of conversations that gathered together loose ends and fond hopes. The sharing times might include matters such as:
• Filling gaps in the loved one’s history.
• Recalling reverently some cherished stories or memories.
• Providing prompts for appreciative and grateful affirmations.
• Speaking honestly about a loved one’s wishes for end-of-life care. (See www.theconversationproject.org for a Starter Kit.)
• Confessing and forgiving perhaps long-hidden sins or shortcomings.
• Dealing with approaching legal matters.
• Planning or perfecting memorial service arrangements.
• Talking about matters of faith.
• Conveying blessings from the dying person to beloved descendants. (See Genesis 48-49.)
These prompts could encourage both the loved one and family to engage in meaningful interchanges—emotions, information, support, love—that might otherwise get buried by other seemingly pressing matters.
The idea of an exit interview doesn’t replace any other conversations toward the end of a loved one’s life. This added structure or set of expectations might help fill in the gaps that naturally occur during these times. Whether planned separately or interspersed with other enjoyable exchanges, the exit interview might assure that nothing goes unsaid during these last days. Using this idea/model, family members would have fewer regrets about topics, matters, feelings or questions that were left untouched during a loved one’s final months.
It’s important to remember that not every dying process can accommodate this rich experience. Severe dementia, loss of consciousness, cognitive incapacity, emotional distress, sudden deterioration or severe pain could limit the benefits of these conversations. Not everyone wants to be the focus of attention at the end of their lives.
Some other questions remain about the viability of exit interviews: What might be the best outcomes for these shared moments? How would their substance be preserved? What might be an ideal setting or context? Who would initiate this process, and who would take primary responsibility for it being carried out? Who would participate in these profound experiences?
However these end-of-life conversations are named or described, their benefits can extend into a family’s history for generations, providing perspective for all whose lives have been affected by a dying loved one.
(To receive these entries as they are posted, go to the upper right hand corner of the top banner and click on the three parallel lines or three dots. Scroll down to the form and enter your information.)