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5 Final Years Conversations to Begin Now

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“In a way, your mother was your first love affair. You knew her heartbeat, her voice, her moods, her emotions . . . her eyes were the first you saw coming into this world, just as yours will be the last she sees going out of this world.” – Nancy Cobb, “In Lieu of Flowers”

Who wants to think about a time without their loved ones?  Or that moment when you take one long, last look into your mother’s eyes. Someday, your own children will be facing that heartache.

“For many, death is an uncomfortable topic that people tend to avoid talking about. A lot of people think that if you talk about death then it’s going to happen. There’s a certain level of denial that exists,” noted Jay Branton, Managing Director of Dignity Memorial® in Eastern Canada. “However, the way people deal with and look at death can largely depend on culture,” said Branton.

For example, in modern-day European-based folklore, death is known as the "Grim Reaper" or "The grim spectre of death.” This form typically wields a scythe, and is sometimes portrayed riding a white horse.

University of Nebraska at Omaha Gerontologist Dr. Julie Masters finds that telling others about her profession often opens the door to interesting dialogues about death. As a result, many times people share their own preferences for the end of their lives.  “In the book ‘Being Mortal,’ author Atul Gawande writes, ‘Death, of course, is not a failure. Death may be the enemy, but it is also the natural order of things,’” Masters explains.

Research corroborates the desire that individuals have to discuss these issues. In a survey conducted by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care® network, nearly three in four seniors who have made plans for their final years have discussed them with their adult children, and half of those did so to let them know everything will be OK.

Masters encourages individuals to begin conversations with the end in mind. Following are five  conversations to consider having with these important people:

1. Make sure everyone understands what you want. Adult children can be among the least likely to want to initiate these conversations. It’s important you know your parents’ or other older loved ones’ end-of-life preferences and that everyone is on the same page to avoid squabbles at the end. By the same token, you’ll want your own children to know. Make it a collaborative exercise: “Mom, I’ve been thinking about what I might like at the end of my life just so the kids don’t have to worry. What are your thoughts?”

2. Find out what medical options are available. The medical community is an important resource for end-of-life conversations. Start the talk with: “I want to have a conversation about my wishes for end-of-life care.” Try to ensure someone approaching the end of life has regular touch points with the medical community to ensure his or her physical as well as emotional needs are being met.

3. Discuss your financial goals. Initiating conversations with attorneys, financial planners, life insurance agents and funeral directors can help individuals ensure everything is in order. It doesn’t take much to start these conversations since professionals in these industries are accustomed to dealing with end-of-life topics. You’ll want to be sure to communicate to these professionals about budget or financial goals, final years’ lifestyle preferences, and how you’d like a life to be celebrated.

4. Engage a spiritual advisor for emotional support. Conversations with spiritual advisors can sometimes provide comfort and clarity at the end. For some, this person could be a religious leader, while for others this person could be a friend whose outlook on life you really value. Talking through the issue with a trusted advisor can bring peace and the confidence in knowing you made the right decision.

5. Convey your wishes to your care team. Caregivers, whether they are family or professionals caregivers or care communities, play an important role in many seniors’ lives. But oftentimes seniors are reluctant to accept help, or talk about their future care needs. North American seniors surveyed by Home Instead, Inc., focus more on preparing financially and legally than planning for long-term care. Seventy-three percent had made a will, but only 13% had made plans for long-term care. Approach the conversation with a sense of working together. “Mom, I’d like to treat you to someone who could help you around the house. You deserve it, and having a little help will make it easier for you to stay at home.” For more tips, go to the 40-70 Rule: A Guide to Conversation Starters for Boomers and Their Senior Loved Ones.

Having the courage to initiate difficult conversations is a key to successful aging, Masters said.

Additional Resources:

40-70 Rule Conversation Tree
How to Begin the Final Wishes Conversation
Compose Your Life SongSM Music Generator

Last revised: February 23, 2018

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