Talking About Death Doesn’t Have to be Hush-Hush


Talking About Death Doesn’t Have to be Hush-Hush

Discussing your hopes, fears and wishes can bring you and your adult children closer.

November 18, 2014

Your 30-something daughter gets anxious when she sees how many medications you take in the morning. Your son gets nervous when you drive alone. You worry your adult children aren’t prepared for how to handle things when you’re gone, even if that could be decades from now. Or worse, they won’t know how to provide the care you want while you’re here, if you need it.

So how do you talk about how those sidelong glances make you feel? How do you share your thoughts in a way that’s loving and reassuring, authoritative without being patronizing? We may share our fears and concerns with friends, but too often we neglect to talk about them with our sons, daughters and other loved ones. By having these conversations years before there’s a critical reason, you can be in control of sharing important information with the people you trust and can cover more ground without being rushed.

Whether you’re preparing for a discussion with your adult children or an aging parent, the sooner, the better. You owe it to yourself, and those you love, to reach a level of understanding, compassion and comfort through these quiet chats.

Engaging with grace
Although something we all have in common, we treat conversations surrounding our own mortality as something to think about later. These more serious conversations, the ones that define how you live as you get older, are the ones we tend to avoid.

Why? Not many of us enjoy talking about (or even acknowledging) a time when we may not be at our best or will have to watch someone important to us lose abilities that made them who they are. While it’s much more pleasant to spend our mental energy on positive life events, it’s also important to gracefully open a dialogue based on mutual comfort and understanding. In that way, you can take some burden off your loved ones by providing direction before any physical or mental limitations enter the picture. Doing so not only highlights your wishes, but underscores the things that are most meaningful to you.

More than 90% of people think it’s important to talk about their loved ones’ and their own wishes for end-of-life care. Yet less than 30% of people have discussed it.

Source: National survey by The Conversation Project 2013

Here are some steps to take to help you speak with your adult children about issues associated with aging and to make sure you’re heard.

Tip: Be patient – some people may need a little more time to think. Once you begin, don’t feel obligated to steer the conversation, just speak from your heart without letting your emotions take you off track.

Gather your thoughts
Set aside time to ponder your hopes and fears, wants and needs. Even more important, think about what matters to you when it comes to quality of life. You may wish to live alone even if your eyesight starts fading, but your children may not agree out of fear for your safety. Regardless, it’s important that they listen to you, so they understand that you want to live life on your terms for as long as possible. Your children should feel open to express any hesitations, but trust that the people who’ve guided them throughout their lives know what makes life meaningful to them. Share with your kids the ways they can help you achieve what you want as you get older. They may disagree with some of your choices, but how will you find a compromise if you don’t start talking? When you’re ready to broach the subject, try not to allow emotion to get in the way of communicating what’s significant to you, whether that’s fear about verbalizing your thoughts or worry that your loved ones will respond defensively. Instead, focus on communicating your thoughts in a way that encourages your loved ones to see your point of view. Remember to be open to their thoughts, too. No matter which side of the conversation you’re on, be a good listener to help understand how you and your family can work together to live in harmony.

Open the lines of communication
Before you start talking, be aware of any preconceived notions you may have about what the other person may think or how they may respond. Most of all, don’t talk yourself out of broaching the subject because you’re worried it might upset someone you care about or you think they can’t handle it. Instead, think of the process as clearing the air and ultimately alleviating any lingering worries any of you may have.

Once you know who you want to talk to, and who needs to know what, give some thought to when and where you’re comfortable having the discussion. Does your family already have a standing holiday, like Thanksgiving, when you can carve out time to talk? Do you spend time together on the weekends where you can chat over coffee around the kitchen table or on a walk around the neighborhood? Once you’ve decided on the particulars, tell your loved one there’s something you’d like to talk about, and that you hope they’ll listen to what’s on your mind. If they seem hesitant, check back in within a week, or ask them to let you know when they will be ready because this is important.

Keep talking
Bear in mind that this is the first of many conversations – you don’t have to cover everyone or everything right now. If during this process, you’ve found that you and your loved ones disagree, it’s OK. Getting to the bottom of your feelings through careful conversation can help you align your needs and potentially avoid problems before they become realities.

This wouldn’t be challenging if the relationship didn’t matter to you. It’s essential to share information, gain clarity, and express each other’s feelings to help strengthen your relationship. Remember, every attempt at the conversation is valuable and should be viewed as a step in the right direction. At times, it may be necessary to enlist trusted, objective counselors to help. This can be professionals such as financial advisors, estate attorneys or even friends (or your parents’ friends) who have experienced similar circumstances. Getting advice from those who know you best can be beneficial since they may be able to share specific ideas to help your family break through any roadblocks.

At the end of each discussion, review next steps (even if that means continuing the conversation later) and document what you’ve accomplished. Repeating back what you’ve heard – and what you’ve said – can help both sides find a level of understanding that brings you closer together.

After all, these discussions provide an opportunity to get to know yourself better and enable you to share even more with those you care about. What could be more worthwhile than knowing, at last, that your feelings and concerns have been acknowledged and that you and your family love, respect and understand one another? Get talking.

View more

Back to Top

What Your Loved One Needs Now, What You'll Need Later
What Your Loved One Needs Now, What You'll Need Later READ READ

Rights and Resources Every Caregiver Should Know
Rights and Resources Every Caregiver Should Know READ READ

Caregiving in the Sandwich Generation [INFOGRAPHIC]
Caregiving in the Sandwich Generation [INFOGRAPHIC] VIEW VIEW