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Before It’s Too Late: How & Why to Talk To Your Aging Parents about Preplanning


by Debra Tull

Preplanning is a gift. But where to start?

I am a Baby Boomer with the privilege of still enjoying both of my 90+ year old parents. My being retired gives us time to have some very frank and, sometimes, uncomfortable conversations.  The conversation was difficult to start, but I realized it was on their minds – and if I’m honest on mine too!. Now having shared their wishes, I can see that the conversation gave them a great deal of peace.  It’s no longer a taboo subject and the ease of telling us what they’re thinking is now just like any other conversation. What a gift it has been to learn their desires when it comes to healthcare, living arrangements, and, as my Dad puts it, their “Exit Date”!  Their courage to discuss their wishes allows my sister and me to honor and care for them well in their final years. I won’t need to stress over what they might want.

So many decisions…

Okay, I share this because, 30 days after retiring, I began working for Dignity Memorial® Funeral Homes to give myself something to do with all those extra hours I had on my hands.  This work provided an incredible education about the stress and anxiety loved ones face when planning a funeral with no insight as to how they want to be remembered.  At a time when they are freshly grieving their loss, family members must make 200 immediate decisions regarding, what should be, a conversation around a celebration of their life.  Decisions like burial or cremation, simple or elaborate services, at the funeral home or in a place of worship, financial decisions, which family and friends to contact, travel arrangements, just to name a few.  Then there’s death certificate information; names, dates and places of birth of their parents, social security numbers, middle names, military service DD Form 214, and how many DCs will be needed to close out the estate.  Take all of these decisions and mix in siblings who don’t agree on what Mom or Dad wanted and you can imagine the anxiety goes sky high.  Are you hyperventilating yet?

Useful tips for successful preplanning

Here are some simple tips based on my experiences, observations and 20 years as a Stephen’s Minister. 


Begin by remembering stories that are important to you and you can share with your loved one.

Set aside uninterrupted time

This may have to be over several sittings, so design the time based on your loved one’s ability to engage comfortably.

Have a relaxed environment

Enjoy this time together.

Engage in casual conversation

Ask about their childhood, the young adult life, the family life, growing older, & now

Cover the 5 L’s:  Life, Love, Learn, Laugh and Legacy

Life — How they lived their life

Love — What do they love the most

Learn — What have you learned from them

Laugh — What makes them laugh—now and as they were growing up

Legacy — How do they want to be remembered — What do they want family to know about past generations

photo credit: mrika-selimi from unsplash

Find out what they desire for their end-of-life celebration.

Maybe begin this part of the conversation with what you want.  “I’ve been thinking about how I’d want my life celebration to be.  What are your thoughts on that?”

Share these stories and desires with your siblings and family.

Record them either in writing or on tape so you have them archived

Gather Photos and Mementos and add to your collection

Plan Ahead. PrePlanning End-of-Life Celebrations where Every Detail is Remembered

Schedule an appointment with a PrePlanning Advisor and discuss the desires

Finalize the plans and share with your healthcare team

The bottom line

There are a lot of professional, compassionate and patient preplanning advisors that explain the options, costs and other benefits. They also can help you access Veterans benefits. After you have an idea about your loved one’s wishes, schedule a family meeting together with the pre-planning advisor. My parents took my sister and I with them and, as a family, we planned their life celebration. It might be tomorrow or 10 years from now – what a gift to us.

As an after note, my personal plans are in place. My children know who to call and that I want a small dinner gathering to celebrate my life. My daughter wanted to know who was cooking!! Life is good.



preplanningDebra (Debbie) Tull grew up as an Air Force dependent moving from coast to coast and living abroad in Okinawa (2 years) and Germany (6.5 years). After returning from Germany and moving to Texas, she began a 35 year career in marketing and all aspects of advertising focusing on the automotive and communications segments on a national, regional and local level. Having a heart for and observing individuals in crisis, in 1999 she trained to be a Stephen Minister becoming a Stephen Leader and trainer in 2000. Retiring for a full month, she joined Dignity Memorial®, Ted Dickey West as a Funeral Service Assistant and, after 3 months, began representing them as a Community Outreach Representative in Collin County and the DFW area. While at Dignity Memorial®, she discovered The Wellness Center for Older Adults and is an avid supporter, now serving as Board of Directors Chair.

Debbie has lived in Plano since 1987, has two children, four grandchildren, and two yippy Chihuahuas. She is a road warrior who loves to be behind the wheel, enjoys cooking, meeting new people, studying the Enneagram and most of all being with family.

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