Years ago, when my wife I announced to her parents that we were expecting our first child, my father-in-law inquired innocently if it was okay to talk about someone being pregnant. He had been raised with rules that made that conversation out-of-bounds. My, how things have changed! These days we need only to turn on the TV to be subjected to conversations about PMS or flagging male libido.
In this time when “anything goes,” I have been surprised to find that there are still some taboos. As an elder law attorney, I facilitate discussions about life, death, and disability—not an easy task because nobody really wants to talk about his or her own death.
Oh sure, people can consider that they are probably going to die…someday. But in their heart of hearts most people can’t believe that they are actually going to die. How else do you explain the fact that 85% of the adult population are without a simple will, power of attorney, or health care directive? The most obvious answer is that they must not truly believe that they’re going to die.
Although it’s difficult, I recommend that you take the time during the upcoming holidays and family gatherings to have what we call the Final Arrangement Conversation with your family. A Final Arrangement Conversation should have at least two distinct elements:
A written expression of your attitudes and desires for life-prolonging treatment (or lack thereof) in the event that you are incapacitated, have been diagnosed as being terminally ill, or are suffering from a long-term memory-robbing illness; and
A written expression of your attitudes, desires, expectations, payment source, etc. regarding your final wishes–how your family should handle your funeral, burial, cremation, religious tradition, probable cost, music, choices of service providers, etc.
When I begin this conversation with clients and their families, I almost always run into resistance. Seniors (even terminally ill seniors) often say, “I don’t care. Funerals are for the living, so do whatever you want.” But families really want to know how their loved ones feel about these issues. When seniors choose to talk about it, they often find it very meaningful to share their expectations. Once we overcome this conversational taboo, the discussion almost always ends with a hug.