My mom died on December 5th, just two weeks’ shy of her 90th birthday. She left us the greatest gift. She made her wishes about the end of her life very clear to our family. She wanted to remain at home and pass away in her own house. She did not want any extraordinary measures to prolong her life. She did not want any service. She wanted her ashes buried next to my father at Valhalla cemetery.
She contacted a local funeral home and paid the final expenses. Writing instructions down very specifically on her favorite yellow legal pad and it witnessed by her caretaker seemed exactly what was needed.
This was not a binding legal document, but in my other’s case that didn’t matter. We were all aligned with her requests and were prepared to honor them. Her passing went exactly as she planned.
Not all families are so fortunate. The end of life is not usually a subject for conversation at the dinner table. There are many reasons why adult children and their aging parents avoid this discussion. For example:
Parents may believe it’s not necessary,
They may not want to talk about serious illness or death,
They may not want to be a burden.
To deal with this problem you might consider asking your parents 2 simple questions, even if you know the answers.
Do you have an advance directive?
If not, why not?
See if the answers give you any clues what’s stopping them.Dig a little deeper. You might say that you would feel better if you knew your loved one’s wishes before any problems arise. Try, “I love you and I wouldn’t want to do anything you didn’t agree with if you were ever unable to tell me yourself.
If you still meet with refusal, don’t push the issue on that occasion. Changing behavior takes time and often many conversations. Be willing to drop the subject if your loved one gets angry or upset, but explain you want to revisit the conversation again.
Then follow-up. A news story or the experience of a relative or friend might be the perfect opener. If you know your loved one’s doctor or religious advisor that might be helpful, suggest meeting with them.
If you’d like to read more about end of life planning, check out the work of these experts:
Doug Smith, author of “It Takes a Village to Say Good-Bye”
Stephen Kiernan, author of Last Rights: Rescuing the End-Of-Life from the Medical System
Dr. Angelo Vallendes, author of The Conversation
In our society, there’s a strong tendency to avoid talking about death. Don’t wait until your parents are too sick or too impaired to provide you with insights into what they want!