Sunday, May 20, 2012

When I Die...Thoughts on Talking to Your Aging Parent about Death

Death. Have you and your aging parent talked about it? It's difficult, without a doubt. Yet allowing your parent to express his or her end of life wishes can be sacred, for all.

Trudy James knows. A Seattle-based trained hospital chaplain and Episcopal lay minister, James has facilitated end-of-life planning groups for years.

"People can solve their own hurts if they're listened to," says James. "Your job (as adult children) is to listen without talking, allowing them to tell you what they want."

But how to start? Be open-ended so your parent can fill in the blanks with what they desire, James advises. One idea is to ask your parent to complete the sentence, "When I die, I want..."

Typical answers include:

1.  When I die, I want things to be in order. Your parent may be adamant about dressing drawers being straightened, wills being finalized, or dishes, trinkets or antique guns parceled out to children.

2.  When I die, I want my loved ones to be OK.  That may mean adult children and others are provided for financially. Or it may mean a desire for emotional and spiritual peace, with kids getting along.

3.  When I die, I want a peaceful death.  At life's end, your parent may have specific requests such as music playing, scripture being read, an absence of pain, etc.

4.  When I die, I want to know my life mattered.  This statement speaks to the idea of legacy and may take many forms:  verbal or written blessings for loved ones, donating organs for research, giving money for significant causes, etc.

5.  I want my physical body to be laid to rest. Knowing your parent's preferences regarding funerals or cremation, and the specifics of the chosen method, allows you to do everything within your power to implement their wishes.

The sentences above can be boiled down to two basic questions:  "What are your parent's wishes?" And "Who will carry out the wishes?" For specifics on starting the discussion, check out

Trudy James presented this material earlier this month at the Seattle Senior Care Coalition, a group of professionals in the senior care field.

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