Starting a discussion about death, especially your own death is never easy. It’s hard for us to face our own mortality, and it’s hard for our family and friends to think of life without us. However, most people report that they feel relieved once they have had a conversation about their death and their wishes for end-of-life care, their funeral, and the disposition of their possessions. Family and friends are usually happy to know your wishes so they aren’t stuck making impossible decisions.
Sometimes it’s not just that the subject of death is uncomfortable. You may have a very emotional son or daughter who has a hard time staying calm during sensitive discussions. You may feel worried about their reaction and not sure you can deal with their tears, shouting, or outburst. Still, you don’t want to avoid the conversation and saddle your family with their extreme reaction when a difficult decision is being discussed. We have a few tips for you that we hope will make the discussion more smooth.
1. Be sure you know what you want for end-of-life care before broaching the subject with your extremely emotional child. Speak with your spouse or partner. Discuss options for an advance directive and estate planning with your lawyer. Talk over possible scenarios with your doctor. If you are spiritual or religious, you might discuss your faith’s approach to death with a trusted clergyperson. Consider your options for a funeral or memorial service. When you are clear about your own wishes, it will be easier to guide the discussion with your child.
2. Give your child advance warning in an email that you want to have this discussion. This allows them to have some of their reaction away from you before you get down to talking over your situation.
3. Be honest about the difficulty of talking about death and end-of-life issues. You can validate your child and say that it’s hard for you, too. You might also want to set some boundaries at the beginning. Decide what behaviors you will and won’t accept. Suggest that you take a break if it gets too intense.
4. Consider a “soft startup.” Don’t just barrel into a discussion of your own death. You can use a news story as an opener. Or maybe you have friends or other family who have recently been through the death of a loved one. You can start by talking about the other situation and gently bring the conversation around to your own death.
5. Split up the discussion. Maybe it’s just too overwhelming to talk about end-of-life care, your funeral, and your will all at once. Let your child know you want to go over all these topics with them, but you’re only going to do one at a time. Or you might want to set a time limit. Agree in advance that you’ll take a break after the set time.
6. Consider setting down all your wishes in writing and giving a binder to your child. This allows them to see what you want, but you don’t have to be present. Let them know they can reach out with questions or to get clarification.
7. Enlist the help of a third party. Maybe there is a trusted friend, clergy, or family member who can help your child deal with their feelings about your death. Talk to that person ahead of time. It could be a good idea to have them present when you discuss end-of-life issues with your child. Or perhaps they could broach the subject with your child.
We hope these tips make the discussion with your extremely emotional child go more smoothly. Planning ahead is the key to having a calm discussion and having your wishes respected.
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