Most friends who know me would likely guess “stuffed ewok”, and they would have been right before 2013.
That year I had a conversation with my parents about prepaying their funeral expenses and what kind of rituals they wanted done at the time of their deaths. You know, all those fun conversations that no one wants to have when everyone is healthy and people definitely avoid when someone is not healthy. However, after my parents’ car accident and moving them to Florida to be closer to me and my father’s diagnosis of Parkinsonism, I decided that working on their funeral arrangements was now a priority.
There were lots of reasons for initiating this on my part. First, my parents and I hold different religious beliefs, so I wanted to be sure I honored their wishes, which involved taking the opportunity to have a direct conversation when I had the person I intended to honor right in front of me. Secondly, I knew my primary focus at the time one parent died would be to comfort the surviving parent, not deal with a funeral home. Thirdly, I would be emotional enough in my own grief and that is not a great time to make decisions that impact time, money or other family members when the answers could already be on paper.
My mom’s response was typically cynical: “So, you are saying we can go ahead and die now?” My dad’s response was typically generous: “These are the couple things that matter to me. But whatever happens, just do the best you can and don’t worry about how it works out. You are taking care of us now, and that is what matters.” That was so freeing. It was freeing at the time he said it and at the time he died. He relieved me of the pressure and burden of fearing I would do it wrong or that my best wasn’t good enough. He also told me the things that were most important to him so I did not have to guess or weigh what anyone else suggested.
It is hard after someone is gone to try to recreate a conversation that you wish had taken place. If you are the one needing information, ask. If you are the one with information, provide it willingly. There is no hidden agenda when you are talking about final arrangements. The primary agenda is wanting to honor the person who was loved in life and will be missed in death. Talk it over now so you say the things you need to say and make the decisions you won’t want to make at a time of grief. Listen as much as you are able, know that it may be a series of conversations. And as far as it depends on you, offer peace.
Anita is the founder of Family Link and wants to share with you some tools and thoughts to help you with the complex responsibility of managing the care of aging loved ones while still managing the other aspects of your life.