How to have the talk with elderly parents
The Talk infographic
Death and Dying
On Death and Dying: How to Have “The Talk” with Your Aging Parents
Roz Chast, a popular cartoonist of The New Yorker, published a graphic memoir titled Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? In the memoir, Chast addresses the difficulties she faced in dealing with her elderly parents at the end of their lives. Talking about death with anyone can be an uncomfortable conversation, and can seem an almost impossible subject to breach when it comes to your aging parents. Regardless of whether anyone really wants to talk about it, there are crucial details you and your parents need to discuss to ensure that the end of their lives is handled according to their wishes.
The consequences of not having “the talk” before it’s too late can come in the form of financial, personal, and even spiritual burdens. Do you know whether your parents have a will? What are their wishes should they get sick, or too feeble to take care of themselves? What sort of funeral arrangements have they made? What will happen to all of their things when they die? Many agree that conversations about death and final plans should happen early and often.
There are many excuses for avoiding these conversations: Lack of time, your parents’ unwillingness to talk about death and dying, or even the assumption that “everything will work out somehow.” Avoid the pitfalls of these excuses and consider these five things when you’re getting ready to talk about the tough issues:
- Be honest.
There are things you need to know, regardless of whether anyone wants to talk about them or ask the difficult questions. Will there be enough money to cover the cost of the unexpected? Do your parents wish to be kept on life support? Do they wish to be buried, or cremated? Avoiding these conversations can lead to a lot of uncertainty and complications later on. Try opening your conversation with a small piece of honesty: “I want to know your wishes are honored when the time comes. Do you have a will?”
- Be considerate.
As difficult as the topic of your parents’ death may be for you, it may be much worse for them. In today’s society, aging seniors are often viewed as “on their way out,” with little to offer the world around them. These views can lead to your parents feeling obsolete, anxious, and depressed. Consider these issues from their point of view, and do your best to remain sympathetic when asking the tough questions.
- Make plans.
Making plans for the future can seem overwhelming, but it is better to make them sooner rather than later. Proper planning can relieve the heavy burdens often imposed on a family when a relative passes away. Experiencing the death of a loved one is an emotional time in itself, and the added pressures of financial issues and other important decisions can quickly become too much. Here are a few plans that should be sorted out early:
- A plan for property, such as real estate and personal items.
- A plan for finances, including unpaid bills, taxes, and financial assets you might not know about.
- A plan for medical issues, such as emergencies and final decisions about healthcare.
- Funeral and memorial arrangements, including any wishes your parents may have post-mortem.
- Know where these plans are. Agree on a safe location for any important documents so they can be found easily.
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