4 Tips for Talking to Your Parents About Death

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog about how important it is to prepare for end-of-life decisions you might have to make on behalf of your parents. I wrote about advance directives, and having important conversations with doctors and family.

I culled so much good advice from books and articles that it inspired me to talk to my own family.

Here’s how that went down.

Me to Dad: So, Dad, I’m writing a blog about preparing for end-of-life decisions and it occurred to me that we haven’t really talked about what you and mom want.
Dad: You think we’re DYING!?
(End of conversation)

Me to Sister: So, I’ve figured this all out. I’ll tell Mom and Dad that you should be the financial power of attorney because you’re good with money and I’ll be the healthcare power of attorney because I’m good with healthcare
Sister: * ? *
Me: Oh, see, I was thinking we should get Mom and Dad to focus on creating their advance directives — you know, end-of-life planning
Sister: Is there a book I can read about this?
Me: You know I’m an expert, right? Don’t you trust me?
(End of conversation)

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Creating a Resilient Response to Loss: The Special Challenge of Dementia

I’ve said many times that few things are more disorienting than the shift from being cared for by your parents to caring for your parents. The only thing that makes it harder is when your parent (or spouse) has dementia. This is quite possibly the most challenging of all situations.

Every Sunday, I allow myself the pleasure of spending time on Krista Tippett’s website, www.onbeing.org. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled onto a podcast entitled, “The Myth of Closure” with family therapist Pauline Boss.

She’s coined the phrase “ambiguous loss,” which I find revelatory. Ambiguous loss refers to “a loss that is unclear, that has no resolution or closure”…. Where a loved one’s “status as absent or present remains hazy.

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What to Do When Your Best Efforts Aren’t Good Enough

My neighbor George is not a daughter but he’s certainly part of the daughterhood. You see, until a year ago, he spent most of his time taking care of his parents in the home they shared.

Now, from my perspective, he was the best kind of son any parents could hope to have and he fully embodied the spirit of honoring your mother and father.

But from his perspective, he was constantly failing.

Once he relayed a story to me about how he was in the kitchen one night making dinner for his parents – both bed bound in different rooms upstairs. As he’s running the food trays up and down the stairs, as he did for every meal, suddenly his mother calls out, “Come sit with me.”

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Are You Ready to Make Healthcare Decisions for Your Parents? Six Steps to Prepare You Now

A reality of our healthcare system is that it’s really good at keeping people alive way past the point that they’re aware of being alive.

As a result, our parents stand a good chance of ending up in either a healthcare crisis or end-of-life situation where they can’t speak for themselves or make the big decisions that will determine the course of their treatment.

That means YOU are the person who will likely have to make these very hard decisions on their behalf. No pressure, right?

Clearly, this is a LOT  of pressure. So, the question is: How do you get ready? You may have already heard about things like advance directives, living wills, doctor’s orders, power of attorney, healthcare proxy, and on and on. All the things that people SHOULD do to prepare for advanced illness and end-of-life.

The problem is it’s all really intimidating and more than a little bit overwhelming.

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Your Parent’s Death: Facing Fear and Finding Meaning

In my next life, I want to come back as Dr. Kathy Selvaggi, the palliative care doctor who appears in a new Frontline documentary series about how our health-care system handles end-of-life care. I think we should all idolize clinicians who escort people to and from life — midwives, labor and delivery nurses on the one hand. Hospice nurses, chaplains, and palliative care physicians, on the other.

Dr. Kathy Selvaggi and Dr. Atul Gawande (author of Being Mortal, the book on which the Frontline series is based) both say that it is really, really hard coming to the realization you or a loved one is dying. They tell us that, for most people, when it comes to dying: Fear Rules.

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