by Debra Tull
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.
Preplanning is a Gift. But Where to Start?
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 one’s 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, and 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 death certificates 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 them 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 the family to know about past generations?
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 them 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 them with your healthcare team.
Are You Ready to Start PrePlanning?
There are a lot of professional, compassionate, and patient preplanning advisors who 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 me 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.
About the Author: Debra Tull
Debra (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.
Having an end-of-life conversation with elderly loved ones is often emotionally challenging, but it’s an essential step in ensuring their comfort, dignity, and well-being during their final stages of life. It also helps alleviate uncertainty and promotes open communication among family members. Below are some commonly asked questions about having these conversations to start the preplanning process.
Why should I have an end-of-life conversation with my elderly loved ones?
Having this conversation allows your loved ones to express their wishes, helps you understand their preferences for care, and ensures their needs are met during their final stage of life.
When is the right time to initiate this conversation?
It’s best to start the conversation early, ideally when your loved one is still in good health. However, it’s never too late to have this discussion if you haven’t already.
How do I approach the topic without causing distress or anxiety?
Approach the conversation with empathy and respect. Choose a comfortable and quiet setting, express your love and concern, and emphasize that you want to honor their wishes.
What if my elderly loved one is resistant to discussing end-of-life matters?
Respect their readiness and comfort level. You can introduce the topic gently and revisit it later if they’re not ready to talk about it initially.
Should I have legal documents prepared during this conversation?
You can discuss the importance of legal documents like advance healthcare directives and power of attorney for healthcare, but it’s not necessary to create them during the conversation. You can work on these documents separately with legal assistance.
How do I address end-of-life decisions if my elderly loved one has dementia or cognitive decline?
In cases of diminished capacity, it’s crucial to have these conversations while your loved one can still express their preferences. Consult with a legal professional to determine the appropriate steps for decision-making if they are not able to communicate with you.
Can I change the conversation over time as my loved one’s health or circumstances change?
Yes, it’s important to revisit the conversation periodically to ensure their wishes are up to date and that the plan reflects their current health and needs.
How can I ensure my elderly loved one feels supported and heard during this conversation?
Actively listen to their concerns, validate their feelings, and involve them in the decision-making process. Reassure them that their wishes are important and will be honored.