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Published on December 30, 2020

The topic of final wishes or end of life wishes is difficult to discuss. It's not surprising that as few as 1% of people ever have an in-depth discussion concerning a loved one's final wishes. In a way, such reluctance to have the final wishes discussion is also somewhat unfortunate. Such discussions can allow us to make this difficult time easier to bear when it arrives. 

Talking about a loved one's final wishes can also allow us to ease into the reality that at some point, a loved one or we will no longer be around. Such a discussion also offers an opportunity to discuss your family members' personal needs and preferences regarding a range of delicate matters, such as long-term medical care and final wishes. Just knowing that you gave a departed loved one the sendoff they wanted can ease some of the sadness.

Going over these things never feels crucial until it is. Most people find themselves with no option other than biting the bullet, usually when a loved one is close to death. Keep in mind, however, that even then, it is not too late. Having that difficult conversation can be therapeutic because many people get an opportunity to express their fears, concerns, and personal wishes that would otherwise be left to chance.

It is easy to think that you will always get the chance to tell your family about your final wishes at a 'later time,' especially when you are healthy and youthful. But as we all know, life is uncertain, and as such, it is fitting to talk about final wishes as soon as you can arrange a convenient and appropriate time. The discussion need not take place in one session. Once the topic is broached, it can be revisited in a few days or weeks.


Find a well thought out approach for talking about your loved one's final wishes.

Finding an appropriate approach to the conversation can be daunting, especially if your loved one is unreceptive or unwilling to discuss the topic. Both of you might feel uncomfortable talking about death, thus adding to the topic's already complicated nature.

If we are talking about a parent, and if you have siblings, you may want to start with one or more of them. The possibility exists that they have already had this discussion with one of your siblings. If not, it would be respectful to involve your siblings in the discussion. Such consideration will go a long way in avoiding the appearance of other interests. It might be determined that one or more of your siblings will join in the discussion when the time comes.

You probably understand your household members to some extent, so keep in mind how they usually react to delicate discussions. Is a straightforward or indirect approach more suitable? A straightforward manner goes something like, "have you ever thought about what funeral arrangement you want?" Or "I know it's a difficult topic to discuss, but have you ever considered any particular funeral plans?"

If you get an uncomfortable reply, you can opt for a more indirect approach. Depending on the mood of the moment, you can bring it up in a relaxed conversation. You can ask, "have you ever wondered what kind of funeral you would like to have?" or bring up your funeral preferences first. This approach may introduce an open-ended discussion that encourages them to talk about their feelings without pressure or a feeling of getting cornered.

You could also try a more light-hearted approach, such as jotting down questions on a piece of paper and leaving space to write down both of your wishes. Questions could include inquiring about the type of flowers you would prefer at your funeral, the songs you would want to be played, the choice between cremation or burial, and so on.


Ask for Details

Once the subject is broached, determine if the setting is right to delve into more detail. After all, the more detail you have, the more likely you will satisfy your loved one's wishes. There are many decisions to be made. You may need to determine where the burial or interment will be, what the funeral's theme will be and where, who will speak, will the service be large or intimate, the variety of flowers to have, how will the arrangements be paid for, etc.

Writing down these wishes and preferences can be a convenient way to fulfill your loved one's desires. Fortunately, many people aren't overly concerned about the specifics so much, as long as they get a dignified sendoff. But knowing if your loved one is one of those people will make it less likely to second-guess important decisions when the moment arrives.

This discussion's critical aim is to clear the air regarding any specific wishes or sensitivities and document whatever wishes your loved one might have.


Discussion Topics to Consider

  • Do they have a will?
  • Do they have a funeral plan?
  • Do they want a funeral or a memorial?
  • Who do they want to preside or speak at the service?
  • Have they considered the type of interment they want?
  • Have they considered designating their burial place and paying for the arrangements in advance? 
  • Where are their essential documents, if any, such as a written will?
  • Do they have life or funeral expense insurance?
  • Do they have any preferences for end-of-life care?

The above is a partial list. As you consider your loved one's specific situation, add to this list as appropriate and cover those items when the time comes.

If appropriate, ask them to write down their wishes, including any particular details and thoughts if they are uncomfortable talking about death. You may wish to discuss the location of any important documents and inquire if life insurance beneficiary information is current. Consider having them date and sign the document since it will serve as an official document. If they cannot date and sign the document, it would be best to have two or more family members present and ensure that one of you documents their spoken wishes and that others present agree that your notes comprise what was discussed. As you can see, there is much territory to cover to have all arrangements in order.


Be Ready for Any Reaction

Final life discussions tend to be filled with emotion and can cause one or all involved to get upset. Bear in mind why you are having this discussion – because you want to give your loved one a dignified service that meets their wishes and have other arrangements taken care of to prevent misunderstandings or disputes.

You can get all kinds of reactions, from completely shutting off to deflecting the topic with humor. Ensure to be gently persistent until you get the information you need. Do not forget to involve other family members as appropriate.

Talking about final wishes is essential, especially if your loved one is terminally ill. However, the best time to have this discussion is when your loved one is still healthy. The discussion will be much easier because death always seems like a distant eventuality that does not require immediate decisions. Still, it is just as important to have a conversation after a terminal diagnosis. Be sure to pick the right time, which would not be immediately following a diagnosis, of course.


In Conclusion

The challenges associated with tackling this difficult subject may make you feel like giving up the process altogether. Ensure to get emotions such as anger, sadness, and anxiety out of the way to make the conversation productive. Make it clear to your loved ones that you brought up the topic out of love and consideration and so that you will be well prepared for any eventuality.

Suppose your loved one simply cannot discuss the topic or refuses to talk. In that case, the best course of action is to discuss matters with other family members to help make the best decisions based on your loved one's personality traits, beliefs, and within any budget constraints. To that final consideration, a word of caution is in order. Avoid an elaborate event that will result in a financial burden. The goal is to be dignified within your loved one and surviving family members' wishes and circumstances.

Even if you cannot cover every detail discussed above, know that your efforts will go a long way in laying the groundwork for a dignified service that meets your loved one's wishes.

Published on December 30, 2020