What I found in this experience (even in dealing with my own illness) is that a large part of end of life tasks is simply being present, helping one negotiate the overwhelming anxiety—anxiety about death, anxiety about suffering, anxiety about loved ones, anxiety about finances. For my mother, these are real worries (and to some extent, real terrors). No one conversation can address them all. Arriving at an acceptance of dad’s mortality and a clear understanding of personal limits against the possibilities of medicine can and cannot do is a process, not an epiphany.

In my years of working in healthcare, there is no single way to help people through it. There are some general rules: You sit down. You make time. You’re don’t determine whether they want treatment X versus Y. Simply spending time trying to learn what’s most important to those impacted—so that I can provide information and advice on the approach that gives them their best chance of achieving whatever goal(s) they deem critical. This process requires as much listening as talking.

During this time, I have found that if one is talking more than half of the time, then one is talking too much.