“I didn’t expect him to die so soon. I got the feeling the doctors weren’t entirely honest with us about his condition. My husband resisted talking about dying and after 40 years of marriage I feel he let me down by not opening up and I guess I let him down for not knowing how to talk about some of the things that I needed to discuss. It would have been nice closure if things had been different in the end. I can never get that time back.”

As a critical care doctor, I’ve seen my share of dying experiences – some have been peaceful, and others filled with chaos and confusion. This particularly painful memory came from a woman I interviewed during a study on satisfaction with end of life care. Her husband died while hooked up to numerous machines and without the capability to communicate his wishes or say goodbye.

You can’t predict how and when you’ll die – but you can document how you would prefer to be treated. Creating an advance care plan can help you document and share your wishes with others so that they can speak for you when you cannot. The plan doesn’t have to be complex – but it should outline your values and beliefs about end of life care and indicate how you would prefer to be treated.

For example, you might not want to be kept alive mechanically if there’s no hope of survival. You might also want to document any spiritual preferences or other practices that might provide comfort – such as having music playing or having visitors.

The most important part of an advance care plan? Sharing it with others. Write down your wishes, then talk about it to your family, friends and health care providers.

Death is not a disease. It’s an inevitability. So why not talk about it?

Dr. Daren Heyland is a Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario Canada and the Director of Canadian Researchers at the End of Life Network (CARENET), a group of health care professionals from across the country who collaborate with each other to understand and improve palliative and end-of-life care.

For more information, please visit the CARENET website.