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How to Talk to A Loved One About Dying

Death and taxes are the two things most people don’t enjoy talking about.  As we dive deeper into helping our clients navigate eldercare challenges for either themselves or a family member, we look forward to sharing resources and tools. An example of this, is we recently hosted an interactive Zoom session with Nancy Taylor, Senior Minister Emeritus of Old South Church in Boston.  For over forty years, Nancy served churches, large and small, in urban and rural communities.  Here are some of the key takeaways from our conversation:

  • We live in a death-denying culture. It’s a complicated subject. For some people, it is a difficult subject.  We are all going to die, and death is inescapable, but there are a lot of people who cannot and will not face that fact.
  • Death and dying are big topics, with a range of subtopics: end-of-life care, medical directives, healthcare proxy, power of attorney, finances, disposition of possession, managing of remains, managing grief, location of records/accounts, obituary and remembrance or thanksgiving of how you mark your life.
  • Are you prepared for end-of-life care? While 92% of Americans say it is important to discuss their wishes for end-of-life care, only 32% have had a conversation. And 68% of Americans lack a valid will. Therefore, it forces grieving loved ones to make decisions on their behalf.
  • It starts with you. “Have you had a conversation with yourself?  Have you made your own plans?”  Such planning is a gift to one’s survivors. One tactic to broach this conversation with a loved one, say your mother or father, is to share what you have done. Make it personal about your plans, not asking them about their own plans.  “Mom/Dad, it occurs to me that I am going to die someday.  I’ve been thinking about cremation/burial/funeral and having my documents in order with a healthcare proxy/estate plan/will/power of attorney.  And ask them if they have any thoughts on these.”  As you share your plans, your loved one will inevitably be thinking about their circumstances.  Your plans might prime the pump, opening the value to enable your loved one to speak about thoughts, wishes, fears, and uncertainties they might be considering.
  • Don’t be afraid of a bit of humor. “Humor helps people cope; it empowers them and is defiant, triumphant and life-affirming; it provides prospective and balances and diverts people’s attention, gives them comic relief, and liberates them from their losses.” Allen Klein, The Courage to Laugh
  • If you talk about it, it doesn’t mean it will happen.


Additional Resources:

  • The Conversation Project emphasizes having a conversation on values – what matters to you, not what is the matter with you.
  • The Five Wishes Document was developed as the first advance care plan (ACP) to address personal, emotional, and spiritual wishes in addition to medical treatment. It’s often called the “living will with heart and soul” because it is based on what is most important—being able to define a roadmap for how you want to be cared for.

For additional insights, we recommend Katy Butler’s book The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life.  Please feel free to reach out to me if you would like to continue this conversation.



Photo courtesy of FreePik.

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Kathleen McQuiggan
Kathleen is a Partner and Wealth Advisor at Artemis Financial Advisors LLC. She has 30+ years of experience in the financial services industry. Her specialties include the financial planning needs of women and employing sustainable investing approaches. She considers herself a financial ally, helping clients develop strategic wealth plans.

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