No one wants to talk about this topic. The sad reality is that no matter how long we live, we all will die. Yes, even writing that sentence was difficult and I’m sure it’s not easy to read—which is why these discussions are so important.
Many of us are in the “sandwich generation,” where we’re squeezed between the demands of caring for our young families and our aging parents. For most busy parents, our main focus is our children, and it’s jarring when we have to pause the business of life and address the reality of death. Here are some ways to provide support to the seniors in your life as they make their end-of-life decisions.
Stop the Denial
When the topic of death comes up, it can feel like a punch in the gut and our natural instinct is to change the subject. However, it’s important to resist the urge to shut down the conversation and to push past your own discomfort. For his or her own peace of mind, your loved one deserves the opportunity to talk about death and to make plans ahead of time, so relatives (including you) won’t have to scramble to make practical arrangements at a time of shock and grief.
If your aging family members wants to make plans for burial or cremation, do your best to be supportive. No one wants to spend an afternoon at a funeral home but, again, it’s better that they be actively involved and can make their own choices while they’re still healthy enough to do so.
Offer to look into the different options in your area, compare reviews, and then help your loved ones make an appointment, if needed. If they want you to go too, do your best to be there for them—even if it’s hard for you. Remember that once it’s done, you won’t have to think about it again and you will, one day, be grateful that you planned ahead.
Express Your Feelings
It’s normal to feel sad about a loved one’s eventual passing, so don’t push those feelings away. It’s okay to let your loved ones know that the topic makes you sad, and expressing your feelings will allow them to share theirs, too. Open communication about this difficult subject isn’t easy, but it will help bring you closer.
You may intend to provide all your loved one’s care until the very end and, in some cases, this is a realistic expectation. But the aging and dying process is different for everyone, and in some cases a loved one is too sick and debilitated for his or her family to handle without help. It’s important to remain flexible and to adapt your expectations to the realities of your loved one’s condition. Consider your budget, the resources available to you in your area, and your family’s needs when making decisions about care. It’s admirable to want to keep your loved one at home instead of a nursing home, for example, but you should weigh your personal feelings against what is best for everyone involved.
This is uncharted territory for both of you and it’s going to be hard, but try to find small ways to enjoy this time with your loved ones. Try to channel your fear and sadness into a renewed determination to make every minute count. Put down your phone, listen more intently, and live in the moment. You will be glad you did.