By Carrie Vittitoe
Most of us do a pretty good job of pretending that we’re never going to die. We live our lives and push the reality of death as far away as possible. Adult children, however, eventually come to the point where they can no longer pretend that their parents are going to be around forever. Even if we can ignore the gray hair and age spots on ourselves, we notice them on our parents.
Although there is a growing cultural acceptance of death, from the establishment of Death Cafes to the local Before I Die festival, it is often difficult to begin the conversation. Kel McBride, who calls herself “The Lively Death Lady” and is the owner of Clearly Depart, and Eileen Walsh, an attorney with Elder Law of Louisville, offer tips to begin the conversation.
1. As parents age, they begin experiencing loss. Perhaps it is a loss of companionship as friends die or the loss of flexibility and balance as they struggle with mobility. With this understanding in mind, Walsh encourages adult children to “couch the discussion in terms of how does the parent see themselves going forward and what can be done to ensure that their wishes are met.”
2. Although McBride primarily works with younger people to prepare for their end-of-life wishes, she says the following eight questions are ones that people need to ask their loved ones regardless of their age:
Whom do you want making medical decisions if you cannot make them?
What medical treatments do you want or not want?
Whom do you want making decisions about your body and funeral?
What do you want to happen to your body?
What are your wishes about your funeral?
Whom do you want to handle your people, property, and pets?
Whom do you want to give things?
Where are your documents?
3. After asking these questions, McBride says it is important to ask why. Adult children need to understand the emotional, environmental, and spiritual values that guide their parents’ decision-making, not only because it deepens their relationship, but also because it provides clarity.