Love, death and the conversation

The unanswered questions that arise after a loved one dies can lead to stress, and even anger among family members. Start the conversation today.
April 4, 2017

Think about your most memorable conversation. Does it bring back fond memories? Leave you with a certain feeling?

My dad and I are strolling along a forest path, the morning fog is clearing over the treetops and, with a prideful tone, he tells me his secrets to living a meaningful life. It is a conversation I’ll never forget and, more importantly, one I won’t need to wish we had when he’s gone.

Nicole Caputo is shown hiking with her father and their family dog.
Nicole Caputo hiking with her father and their family dog. Photo courtesy of Nicole Caputo.

Many conversations define our lives. But one topic we shy away from is talking about what happens when a loved one dies. It’s not a comfortable topic to think about let alone discuss. But important? Hugely. And when the time comes, what may have been hard decisions will come more easily.

Like learning secrets to a meaningful life, it is one conversation we don’t want to wish we had after our loved ones pass away.

Why have the conversation?

Statistics show that most of us don’t want to burden our family with tough decisions after we die. The best way to ease that burden is to sit down and talk. Whether you’re a parent or the child, don’t wait to have the conversation. Sit down over a cup of coffee and talk.

The unanswered questions that arise after a loved one dies can lead to stress, and even anger among family members. When a loved one passes, family members want to carry out last wishes, not fight amongst themselves on what those wishes may have been.

According to The Conversation Project, an organization that is dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care, each conversation will empower you and your loved ones to live and die the way that you choose.

The conversation should include all your desires, from the contents of your will and the affairs you still need to get in order, to where you want to receive care and what kinds of aggressive treatment you may want (or not want).

Before you have the conversation with your kids about your end-of-life wishes think about these questions. Write down your answers and have them by your side during the conversation (or send these questions to your parent(s) so they can think about them before you talk):

  • What do I value the most?
  • Do I have any particular concerns about my health?
  • Are there any disagreements or family tensions I’m concerned about?
  • What matters to me at the end of life?
  • How long do I want to receive medical care?
  • What role do I want your loved ones to play?

Here are some useful tips for everyone to think about during the conversation:

  • Be patient. Some people may need more time to process information.
  • Let the conversation happen naturally. Don’t steer it with specific talking points.
  • Don’t judge. A “good” death means different things to different people.
  • Nothing is set in stone. You and your loved ones can always change your minds as circumstances shift.
  • Every attempt at the conversation is valuable.
  • This is the first of many conversations; you don’t have to cover everyone or everything right now.

The hardest part of starting the conversation is making time. Pick the next family birthday party or major holiday to sit down and chat. One conversation won’t solve everything, but it will allow you to share what matters most to you. It will be a conversation that helps define your life.

The UCHealth Aspen Club has adopted principles from The Conversation Project and hosts of classes and events to help you start the conversation.

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