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Having “The Conversation:” Talking to Mom or Dad About Their End-of-life Wishes

Discussing and planning future goals does not come easy for most of us, especially when it involves having the conversation with our parents to find out what their end-of-life wishes are.

Certainly it is not a conversation anyone looks forward to. Whether the dread comes from facing that death is a part of life, or because acknowledging your parents are not invincible brings sadness, you should move past the deterrents and find time for “the conversation,” before it is forced upon you.

Discussing end-of-life wishes with parents is never happily anticipated, however, compared to the alternative of having to make the decision during a crisis, the former is the better option. Life can change in a matter of seconds and perhaps the worst thing ever is to make a dire decision on behalf of a loved one and always wonder if it aligned with their personal wishes.

Even though it may be difficult for you, most likely your parents have given the topic a lot of thought and secretly hope that you will bring it up so they won’t have to. Here are a few suggestions on how to approach the situation and what to say.

#1 Give Advanced Notice

Inform your parents what the discussion will be centered on beforehand. Advanced notice will help prepare everyone and if your parents haven’t made their final decisions, they will have an opportunity to determine their preferences prior to conversation time.

#2 Determine Who Will Be Involved in the Conversation

If you have siblings, this is a conversation they should be involved in. Regardless if you have already been designated as executor or power of attorney, this is a delicate conversation involving parents, the people who brought you into this world. If siblings live out of town, notify them well in advance so they can make plans to attend the meeting in person. If attendance isn’t an option, have a conversation with each other so everyone has an opportunity to share their opinions. Failure to include siblings, or at least attempt to, will only result in resentment and anger down the road.

Prior to meeting with your parents outline the details you want to discuss. If you siblings or other relatives will be involved, decide beforehand who will lead the conversation. This will help ensure the specifics are covered and prevent it from lasting too long. If questions arise that prevent final decisions being made in a single meeting, plan another one, but keep them short and on point to prevent awkwardness.

#3 Setting Expectations

While this is not a pleasant discussion, the sooner you have the discussion the better it will be. Naturally, your parents may not look forward to discussing their death, and sometimes siblings have difficulty thinking about it too. However, death is inevitable and by taking the initiative to get the business aspects out of the way, when the sad time does arrive, you will be able to grieve with peace of mind that you are carrying out the wishes of your parents.

#4 Details to Address

During the conversation, there are certain points to address. Here is a list to assist you in outlining the discussion.

After the particulars have been discussed, everyone should be able to walk away feeling relieved that logistics are either taken care of or at the very least is in the process of being addressed. While this isn’t a happy conversation, it is an important and necessary one. Death isn’t a surprise. It happens to all of us. Following the conversation, have dinner together and enjoy quality time and making memories that you can cherish even after your parents pass on.

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