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End-of-Life Discussions Are Awkward



"I am wondering how to broach the subject of end-of-life with my father. He is approaching 90 years right now and may not have too many left. Specifically, I would like to know if he is interested in cremation or traditional burial. Does he have a preference for the type of service we hold? Does he even want us to hold one? Does he have a preference about what’s written in his death notice? 

I have quite a few questions, yet am afraid to ask him. I don’t want to suggest that he is declining, or that he doesn’t have long to live. It would be helpful to know his wishes though. What do you think? How do I approach this topic with Dad?"



Asking anyone about their funeral plans, or even end-of-life care plans, is very frequently an awkward situation. Because of the underlying suggestion associated with this topic, most of us avoid these conversations. No one wants to be the person who brought up dying with Dad and upset him.

The elderly can bring up “passing” often enough themselves that you can expand on the topic to get your questions answered. Sometimes, all you need to do is to wait for an opportunity to ask. 

Another opportunity arises when your father goes to see the doctor. Asking about Advance Directives is a required conversation for health care providers. If he does not have an Advance Directive, there is a very good chance he will be given the paper work for one. You could simply ask about those papers and ask where he keeps them, should you need to access it in an emergency. 

While talking about our future health care needs or funeral plans is not something we do every day, it may be less uncomfortable for him than it is for you. At 90 years of age, he has already lost friends and relatives his age. His parents are no longer living. He likely has opinions about life and death. I don’t think your questions or desire to plan will shock him. It may be comforting to know that you care and will respect his wishes. 

Sometimes what’s left unsaid can cause regret later. It never hurts to spend time with your father and learn about what’s important to him. The better you know him, the greater the chance that he will open up and tell you what he’s thinking. It doesn’t really matter what the activity-- golf, fishing, dining out, or simply grilling on the patio. Hanging out with dad may provide ample opportunity for discussion.

Life is a journey that we share with others. Be part of your father’s journey and information, thoughts, and wishes will flow.


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