Family

Jo Seagar on why it's important to talk about your final wishes with your family

It’s not an easy subject to bring up, but knowing what our loved ones want when their life comes to an end can bring greater emotional connection.

By Jo Seagar
Making a will, end-of-life plans, various health issues and even downsizing – these are the topics that are very difficult to tackle with ageing family members, but starting the conversation now will give everyone involved peace of mind.
It's strange how these days we're so open about many topics but when it comes to the end-of-life experience, we often enter into a conspiracy of silence.
Parents don't "have the talk" because they don't want to worry their children, and the children in turn are reluctant to even consider their parents actually dying one day.
However, it is the nature of things that we are all born and grow and then we die – no one gets out alive.
Bringing up these tricky subjects with family shouldn't be saved for our dotage.
I'm having these chats with my children and it's never too soon to plan ahead or to make a will. My own kids are at least considering their own mortality and, as we all realise, bad things can happen to young people too.
It's good to know your family members' thoughts on organ donation and the type of funeral and burial or cremation they would like.
With elderly and ageing parents, the first time for this talk should not be in the doctor's office, and certainly not in the emergency department or in the back of an ambulance.
Ideally, it's good to have this conversation in a relaxed way around the dining table, with a bit of humour involved.
My parents were like this – we all knew the hymns they liked and various readings or poems they preferred.
Mum even had a list of catering requirements for her funeral, with asparagus rolls and little potato-topped pies being high on the list.
We had written instructions to offer tea and coffee, but also a brandy and dry with lemon and bitters – known in our family as a "horse's neck".
My father's instructions were also mainly to do with the after-function and included directions about varieties of single malt whisky and plenty of mixers – it was very important to him that we didn't run out at the bar.
He had us, his children, even practise being pallbearers by carrying the sofa up and down the drive shoulder-high… being an old returned serviceman he wanted things to be pretty shipshape and done in true military fashion.
It's good to have this conversation in a relaxed way around the dining table. Image: Shutterstock
A good way to start this difficult and often put-off conversation could be: "I'm worried about what might happen if you're ill and I have to make decisions for you. I've thought about my own wishes and end-of-life plans and I wonder if you can help me by talking about yours."
Smile as you bring up the topic and remember it's not a Grim Reaper discussion. I think we all worry that our parents and our beloved oldies will think we're expecting or even waiting for them to die.
Don't be tempted to put this conversation in the too-hard basket or to settle for a "whatever will be, will be" scenario.
It's not a discussion about what's the matter with you. It's more to do with what matters to you – what you want to happen and how you want your end-of-life experience to reflect the whole of your life.
When I've discussed this with other people – close friends, my kids, families in hospice care and my siblings – the conversations are rich and deep and always produce an emotional connection. It brings us together in a very human way.
In my experience, the difference between a good death and a difficult death seems to be whether the dying person has shared his or her concerns and wishes.
People who have had this conversation leave their loved ones less stressed and regretful.
It's a simple conversation, but it can be a real gift to all.
Oh, and while I'm thinking about it, I must make a wee note about Champagne… I definitely want Champagne at my funeral – and a fabulous organ recital too.

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