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Talking With Parents About End-of-life Planning

It’s never easy to talk about death and dying. But it is important. The trouble is, how on earth do you start that conversation? And what do you do, if your Mum and Dad really don’t want to talk about it? Every family is different. Here are three ways to start the conversation, that might just help.

“My plans are simple, but I don’t know what yours are?”
Talk about your own actions, about talking to financial advisers and making sensible plans for the future. The conversation can lead very naturally through the cost of saving for a home perhaps, arranging a mortgage, deciding on a pension – and then on into planning a funeral.
Say something like, “I was doing some paperwork, and it made me wonder what you would like to happen when you die. It would be good to know, so I can handle things the way you want me to.”

“Dad, I didn’t know about these costs – did you?”
Sharing a real-life experience can help, even if it’s a little bit imagined. For example, you might mention that you’ve read about the cost of funerals recently and had no idea there were bills to pay for a doctor to issue a death certificate.
Say something like, “I wouldn’t want anyone to worry about those costs. I know they’re only going to go up. I’m going to think about making a plan to cover those bills sooner, rather than later.”

“Mum, would you be willing to help me please?”
Appeal to your parent’s practical nature. ‘Can you help, please’ is a very simple thing to say. And it’s very natural for parents to want to help their children, even if they’re not comfy with the subject. Explain that you’re worried about not doing what Mum or Dad would want you to, simply because you don’t know what they want.
Say something like, “It worries me a bit. I’ll be upset anyway, but if we we haven’t talked about what you’d like to happen, it will be even harder – can we talk about some of the simple things, at least?”

It’s very natural to hear an excuse or what’s called a ‘deflection’. Mum or Dad might say, “We can do that some other day,” or, “Why do you want to talk about this now?” It’s not unusual to hear, “Oh, I’ve sorted everything out already,” (even if they haven’t), or “Don’t talk like that, why do you want to be so morbid?” The one that’s hardest to deal with, is “I don’t care what happens, I’ll be dead.” But in some ways, that’s the easiest way to open up a conversation – because it does matter to you.

If the subject is on your mind a lot, and you’re really struggling, it may be helpful to have a third party join the conversation. A good friend, or another trusted member of the family – someone who can gently confirm that end-of-life planning is nothing to be worried about, it’s all part of getting older – and that making funeral plans is all a natural part of life.

In fact, many people find that saying, “Mum, Dad, there’s something we should talk about,” is the surprisingly easy way to begin talking. In short, many parents are already wondering how to start the conversation, themselves. “Let’s make a plan. Then we can enjoy life.”

In every situation, remember, there’s usually no rush. Take your time and don’t worry if it’s not a free-flowing conversation to begin with. Just starting the thought process may be enough.