I REMEMBER THE MOMENT I knew my husband was dying.

For four years, he'd fought cancer, battling like the athlete, the champion that he was. He didn't want to die. He had better things to do.But that day last August when his doctor said the chemo wasn't working - the disease had spread and we were out of options - my husband of 30 years looked at me and smiled. And there it was. I knew.

From that moment on, until he died five months later, our focus shifted. All the energy, effort and will we had devoted to keeping him alive now came to bear on his dying.

That's not to say we lost hope. No, hope was our life vest. We never took it off. But after that day, we changed directions, started swimming toward a different shore. To get there, we had to ask some hard and painful questions.

My husband made it easier. He was very sure about what he wanted. No more hospitals. No more treatment, except as needed for comfort. No feeding tubes, no life support and no resuscitation. He wanted to die at home with as much peace and dignity as possible.

And that is what he did.

To describe that process - all that it entailed - would require far more space than a column. But the basic steps were these: First, we talked about his wishes and put them in writing. Then we wrapped ourselves in an ironclad network of family, friends, his longtime physician and visiting nurses from hospice.

We learned all we could about the process of dying. Finally, together, we watched it unfold. It was the most difficult, most rewarding experience of my life.

Most of us don't like to talk about death, let alone make decisions about it. So we let someone else decide for us - someone with fine intentions but no clue about our wishes or those of our loved ones.

"People need to start talking to their physicians early on, while they're still able to do so, about their wishes for how they want to die," said physician and filmmaker Maren Monsen. "The more communication that goes on early in the process, the more control a patient will have over what happens at the end."

It's never too soon to think about dying, to talk about it with those you love. It can only be too late.