Having End of Life Conversations with Your Family

The film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” was released in 2019. It centers around the children’s show host Mr. Rogers, specifically how he approached difficult subjects. In one scene, Fred (played by Tom Hanks) makes an observation about life and death. He says, “You know, death is something many of us are uncomfortable speaking about. But to die is to be human. And anything human is mentionable. Anything mentionable is manageable.”

It’s the movie version of an actual quote from the real Mr. Rogers. The actual quote continues: “When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

The people we trust with those important conversations around how we want to live out our lives are very special people indeed. And while the conversations aren’t always easy to have, it’s important that we can talk to our children, siblings, or anyone else who may be close to us, so that they know exactly what to do when the time comes. Did you know that 92% of Americans say it’s important to discuss their wishes for end of life care, but only 32% have actually done it?1

So maybe it’s starting the conversations that’s the hard part. But how do we do that? Well, only you know what’s right for you. But here are four steps you can take to start the conversation with your loved ones when you’re ready.

Find What Matters Most

Before you dive headfirst into a conversation with your kids or other loved ones about your plans for the end of your life, you should probably make sure you’ve put some thought into what you value.

What’s the most important thing to you when it comes to living out the rest of your life? Is being home with your spouse or loved ones a key part of your plan? Who supports you when things get tough? What does your ideal day look like?

Thinking through these questions will help you determine what matters the most to you. It’s what The Conversation Project calls your “what-matters-to-me statement”. They’re an organization dedicated to helping people have conversations around how they want to manage the end of their lives.

They believe the conversations should start with us deciding what matters to us personally, and those conversations should happen while we’re sitting with our loved ones around a kitchen table, rather than around a hospital bed.


Plan The Conversation

Before jumping into any conversation about a heavy subject, it’s a good idea to think through what you want to say. This is certainly no different.

When planning to talk about the end of your life, think through the circumstances of your own level of comfort. If you were seriously ill, for example, would you prefer your life extended, or would you rather your comfort and quality of life to take precedent? Would you rather be in a hospital, or with your family?

Thinking through these kinds of scenarios will help you plan your conversation. This will make you feel more comfortable when the time comes. Remember, you don’t have to have cover everything in the first go. Plan for a few conversations around the topic. And remember, nothing you say has to be permanent. In fact, as things change, your wishes may change. That’s a good reason to have multiple conversations throughout your planning.


Set a Safe Time to Talk

When you’re having a conversation you think may be uncomfortable for you or the person you’re talking to, it’s a good idea to set aside a time when everyone is in a good headspace to talk.

For example, you may choose to avoid stressful gatherings like holidays, because everyone may already be in a moment of high-anxiety. If everyone is out of their comfort zone, with kids running around and lots of people coming and going, tensions can run high—especially if a difficult conversation comes up.

But holidays may also be a convenient time when everyone is together and enjoying each other’s company. Only you know your unique situation. Regardless, it’s best to talk when everyone is well-rested and relaxed: whatever that looks like for your family.

What’s most important is to not push the issue if it feels too uncomfortable. Some people take longer than others to come around to the idea that talking about difficult subjects can be a real help to everyone. It may take several conversations—and that’s okay! It’s perfectly normal for people to react differently. Even if you disagree with your loved ones, the important thing is to keep the conversation going in the long run—that way everyone is prepared in case anything changes with your health.


Make the Necessary Legal Decisions

Once you’ve talked through your wishes, it may be the right time to set up a legal document called an advanced directive. The AARP has compiled a list so you can find the legal forms unique to your state.

Advanced directives include a living will, and power of attorney. With an advanced directive, you can make decisions for yourself ahead of time. Things like Do Not Resuscitate orders (DNRs) ensure you won’t receive CPR if your breathing or heartbeat stops. You can also use an advanced directive to determine whether or not you want your organs to go to help someone else after you die. And when you have a power of attorney, you’re naming a person to be the proxy—they’ll make medical decisions on your behalf if you aren’t able to.

Putting these plans in writing, legally, is important to ensure your wishes are met exactly as you’d like.


Starting the Conversation is Important

When you’re having conversations about the end of your life, it can be tough to know where to start. But by planning it out ahead of time, you’ll be able to be in control of where the conversation goes.

Remember, when you plan ahead of time, you aren’t just making sure your wishes are met. You’re making it easy for your loved ones to know they are making the right decision. That piece of mind may be worth the initial conversation.

If you need help planning your finances as you look toward what the future holds, click here to speak with one of our advisors. While your plans are your own, our agents can help you navigate the complicated financial aspects that come along with your planning, so you can focus on the conversations that really matter—the ones with your loved ones.



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