On Death and Dying: 5 Tips for Having "the Talk" with Your Parents

Roz Chast, a popular cartoonist of The New Yorker, published a graphic memoir titled Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? In the memoir, Chast addresses the difficulties she faced at the end of her parents' lives. Talking about death with anyone can be an uncomfortable conversation, and it can seem almost impossible when it comes to your own parents. Regardless of the appeal of the conversation, there are crucial details you and your parents need to discuss to ensure that the end of their lives is handled the way they would want.

Procrastinating this conversation can result in financial, personal, and even spiritual burdens. Do you know if your parents have a will? What are their wishes should they get sick, or too feeble to take care of themselves? What sort of funeral arrangements have they made? What will happen to all of their things when they die? You can avoid uncertainties by having this conversation early and often.

There are many excuses for avoiding this conversations: lack of time, your parents’ unwillingness to talk about death and dying, or even the assumption that “everything will work out somehow.” Avoid the pitfalls of these excuses and consider these five things when you’re getting ready to talk about the tough issues:

1. Be honest. In this conversation, you will be required to ask some difficult questions and being frank and honest will make this easier. Will there be enough money to cover the cost of the unexpected? Do your parents wish to be kept on life support? Do they wish to be buried or cremated? Try opening your conversation with a genuine expression: “I want to know how to honor your wishes when the time comes. Do you have a will?"

2. Be considerate. As difficult as a talk about your parents’ death may be for you, it may be much more challenging for them. A lot of us often think of seniors as “on their way out,” with little to offer the world around them. After all, we lead separate lives and it’s easy to let the important things slip through the cracks. Your parents may be feeling obsolete, anxious, or even depressed. Consider these issues from their point of view and try your best to remain sympathetic when asking the tough questions. Be sure to let them know that they’re important to you and that you want what’s best for them.

3. Make plans. Making plans for the future can seem overwhelming, but it is better to make them sooner rather than later. Proper planning can relieve the heavy burdens your family might face when a relative passes away. Experiencing the death of a loved one is an emotional time in itself, and the added pressures of financial issues and other important decisions can quickly cause overwhelm. Here are a few plans that should be sorted out early:

    • A plan for property, such as real estate and personal items.
    • A plan for finances, including unpaid bills, taxes, and financial assets you might not know about.
    • A plan for medical issues, such as emergencies and final decisions about healthcare.
    • Funeral and memorial arrangements, including any wishes your parents may have post-mortem.

Write these plans down. Agree on a safe location for any important documents so they can be found easily.

4. Listen and be respectful. While it’s true that you will be the one dealing with these things once the time comes, this is about your parents and their wishes. Be sure to ask questions and listen to what is important to them. They may have stories about their families or lives that they want to tell you so that you can pass them on to others. They may want to talk about their personal views on life, death, and religion or spirituality. Be open to what they want to pass on and leave behind when they die.

5. Make the most of your time together. Break the tension and lighten the mood by reassuring your parents (and yourself) that having the important conversations early and often means you have more time to spend together, and that you are bringing yourselves closer together by being honest and open about difficult matters. After all the plans have been made, you’ll be relieved to know that your parents’ wishes are being fulfilled and that many of the difficult questions have already been decided for the future.

By talking to your parents about their final wishes early and often, you can avoid adding further stress and uncertainty to an already trying time. Make the decision to have “the talk” and start making plans today.


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Hutchison Funeral Home

6051 East Seven Mile Road,

Detroit, MI 48234

Phone. 313-893-1880