How to Tactfully Initiate End-of-Life Conversations with Aging Parents

Whether you plan ahead or you’re thrown into a situation due to a sudden health crisis, end-of-life conversations are never easy. Couple that with trying to initiate end-of-life conversations with your aging parents. These conversations can be excruciatingly delicate and sometimes difficult. One must simultaneously tread lightly, yet boldly.

Here are some very basic guidelines to help prepare and guide you for these very important and personal discussions.

1. Start now. If you think it’s difficult to find the time today, imagine what it will be like trying to discuss end-of-life matters with your mom when she is gravely ill, incapacitated, or worse. Imagine what would happen if she were no longer here with you to have these conversations.  In other words, don't wait.

2. Pick a comfortable spot, both mentally and physically. Do not bring your mother (or father) to the local Applebee’s to have this type of conversation. She does not want to discuss her personal matters with you while enjoying a meal in a restaurant. We would suggest initiating this talk at your parents’ home, where they are most comfortable and where it’s private.

3. Do your homework. Before initiating this meeting, prepare a list of questions you want to help your parent find the answers to. We suggest beginning by referrring to one of the many checklists located in The LastingMatters Organizer. While you may think of the basics (ie. whether they prefer a traditional graveyard burial or they wish to be cremated) you may be overlooking dozens of other considerations that you haven't thought about.

4. Be straight and be clear. Ease into the conversations by first letting your parent(s) know that you honestly don’t want to broach end-of-life subjects, but that it is best for everyone involved to be prepared in advance for any kind of future life-changing event- such as incapacity, dementia or death. Remind them that a feeling of accomplishment comes from the knowledge that their affairs are in order and their wishes articulated and their intentions will be honored. Help them understand that these conversations are tough for all involved, but that these conversations are also the right thing to do.

5. Give yourself, and your parents, a break. When discussing end-of-life matters with a loved one, often your biggest concern is how to make your parent or parents most comfortable in tackling these important decisions. This is not going to be a one time conversation and will take time for your parents to consider and organize their wishes. Take breaks from these discussions, but be sure to revisit topics and continue to gather the information that will be needed, and wanted, when something happens. Easier said than done, right?

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but it will help you ignite a conversation. 

While you, and/or your parents, may have your own checklists, referring to The LastingMatters Organizer as a comprehensive tool and resource for guidance will make the task and the conversations easier.

And, if for any reason your parents choose not to engage in any end-of-life conversations with you, you can simply ask them to quietly fill out the Organizer because the information they can provide you will be a gift to you in the future - when it matters most.