Begin with the End in Mind

Raise your hand if discussing death with your parents is fun. I see no hands. Yeah, yeah, I know I’m not looking at an audience right now – but I also know of no one that would. It’s not a topic we want to cover and it’s not one they want to either. But it is critical to discuss.

As the caretakers of our elderly parents and relatives, we need to know what preferences, plans and commitments they have made or want to have carried out upon their death.

Here are some conversation starters to get you going (perhaps after a stiff drink):

Approaching The End

  • Do they want life extending/saving measures? Do they have an advanced directive? They should have one. An advanced directive gives medical providers the elder’s wishes in writing about CPR, intubation, artificial nourishment, etc.
  • Do they have a wish to pass at home? Do they want certain family members there (or not there), if there is a choice? Do they have a preference for whom gives their care as they approach death?
  • Do they have religious requests? For example, do they want a pastor, priest, a rabbi or other spiritual practitioner to be present as they near death?

The End

  • Does your elder want to be cremated? Do they want to be buried? Have they donated their body to science?
  • Have they paid for and completed pre-planning for their end-of-life wishes?
  • Do they have burial insurance? If yes, what company carries it and where is the policy?
  • Do they have a cemetery plot purchased? Where are the documents? What would they like on their marker?
  • If cremation is their choice, where would they like their cremains spread, or where would they like their cremains to reside?
  • If they’ve donated their body, where is the confirmation and where are the instructions for what to do when they pass?

The Service

  • Do they want a memorial service? Where do they want the service to be held?
  • Do they have a favorite flower, photo, personal memento that they want displayed?
  • Do they want all the details to be handled by the family?
  • Is there special music that they would like to have played?
  • A specific minister, pastor, priest, rabbi, imam or officiant?
  • A preferred church, chapel, synagogue, mosque or place they would like to have the service?
  • Do they have something that they would like read at the service?

The Treasures

  • Do they have a list made of what belongings they would like to go to whom?
  • Have they identified family heirlooms, jewelry or keepsakes that they want to be given to family and friends? They need to make a list and sign it.


  • You and your family may have a different set of preferences than your elder. For example, my mom didn’t want a memorial service but we, as her children, did. We held a service, but did the best to make it honor her in a low-key, yet respectful way.
  • You might have family members with conflicting ideas as well. You will want to get those discussions (and yes, negotiations) out in the open. Get creative. There may be a way to honor all or most of the preferences – maybe more than one service, maybe with more than one officiant, etc. It is important, though, to realize that grieving looks different to everyone.

Tough Talk

I know this is hard. No one wants to bring this up. But, as they say, nothing is certain but death and taxes. It will happen one day. You’ll be so glad that you talked with them about their wishes and shared your thoughts as well.

Your Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card

Keep in mind that when you finally carry out this plan, you will be grieving, likely be stressed and your family members will be too. Do the best you can to honor the wishes of your elders – but be realistic too. You can’t bring yourself to the edge by trying to honor every last wish if it’s not feasible to do so. Start out with the desire to honor their wishes, but be flexible in how you execute them – so there’s something left of you when it’s all done. A marble or two left in the bag.


**I specifically didn’t talk about wills. That’s in another blog.

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