Why Don’t We Talk About Death and Dying?
Have you been too busy living your life to talk—or even think about—death? It’s a topic that seems perfect to ignore, because it’s associated in our can-do American culture with, well, uncomfortable feelings and yes, even an ending. So, we stay laser focused on our futures—careers, starting a family, retiring—all wonderful pursuits, of course! Problem is, all that life planning doesn’t leave much room for dying in our conscious storyline, even though it’s a part of each of our stories. When the subject does come up, it’s normally in response to a curious child or to losing someone we care about. In most cases, we are confronted by conversations about death. We don’t willingly walk toward them. Heck no.
Why Is It So Hard to Talk to Parents About Death?
Thinking about the death of our parents can seem worse than almost anything. Bringing it up in conversation may cause us to feel guilt or fear that we’ll make them uncomfortable. But if we don’t ever talk about it, we can’t be prepared to handle all the feels—and all the logistics—of the loss. So, what if we took that first step to just talk about it a little bit? And by “we,” we mean you. What if you just went ahead and opened that conversation (along with a box of chocolates or a home manicure or a bottle of wine) with your mom? You might be surprised at the positive results.
What If Talking About It Was Actually OK?
Planning ahead with your parents is a gift you can offer each other. It’s a chance to connect emotionally and an opportunity to make decisions that reflect who your parents are as people.
We can shift this paradigm, friends. Let’s give it a try, shall we? Below are some tips to get you started, and you can find the helpful Farewelling Checklist here, which has all the little bullet points neatly arranged.
Guidelines for the Pre-Planning Conversation
- Arrange for plenty of time for the chat to unfold naturally.
- Include others who should be a part of the conversation, and make sure those who shouldn’t be there aren’t around (read: get a babysitter for small children).
- Don’t worry if you don’t get through everything. In planning ahead, you’re allowing for the conversation to develop over time. Listen and be respectful of what they have to say. There is no right or wrong here. Try not to argue what you want. The goal of pre-planning conversations is to give everyone some clarity and peace of mind.
Getting to Know You (More): A Way to Start the Conversation
End-of-life-related chats don’t have to be just about funerals. They can be a chance to find out all kinds of stuff you never knew—a discovery of a whole fascinating person who happens to be your parent. Believe it! Maybe you’ve never asked your mom or dad questions about their childhood, adventures they had before you came along or dreams they’d hoped to accomplish (before life got in the way). Sometimes it’s best to enter the conversation through a side door. Try these questions first, and consider taking notes on their answers so you can share with others later:
- What are your favorite memories of growing up?
- What’s the most important life lesson you’ve learned?
- Who had the most influence on you?
- Do you remember the day I was born?
- What’s one unforgettable adventure you’ve never shared?
- What (if anything) would you change about your life?
- Do you have any questions for me?
Getting Organized, One Step at a Time
While advanced preparation might not seem relevant right now, um, it is. It just is, because if something were to happen, you’d surely want to be making decisions that align with their wishes. This may be even more crucial for families with multiple siblings, as more opinions often equal more chaos—and sometimes more tension—unless there is a plan in place that spells things out clearly.
The best way to get started with making decisions and recording everything, from important contacts to final wishes, is to check out the Farewelling Checklist. You can download it, it’s free, and it will help you every step of the way.