Have you had “the talk of a lifetime” with your loved ones? Do you know who will speak for you if you cannot speak for yourself? Does your family (trusted others) know where you would want to live if you could not live in your own home? Do they know your wishes about end-of-life care? Do they know where you keep your important papers needed by the Executor upon your death? Do they know your final wishes regarding funeral arrangements? Have you had THAT talk?
If the answer is “yes,” I want to honour the courage it took for you to have that conversation. If the answer is “no,” I want to encourage you to find a way to have it.
As a Funeral Celebrant, all too often I have heard a family say, “They refused to talk about their death, and now we don’t know what they would have wanted!” And I see the anguish in their eyes as they take each step hoping and praying that it is the “right” decision. As a daughter, I observed the courage of my parents as they sat my siblings and myself down and told us what they wanted, where to find everything and what was in place.
They gave our family an unbelievable gift, for as each of my parents journeyed the final chapters of their lives, we could speak their truth for them when they were unable to speak it themselves, and we were able to focus on the present moment and not on any unfinished business. And when they died, they literally had everything in place except for the ceremony final details, and THOSE details were simply an honour to fulfill.
Throughout life there are crucial conversations: with our little children as we teach them highly important principles and safety lessons; with our teens as they prepare to embark on their futures; with our partners as we make decisions concerning our homes and families; with our colleagues as we discern direction and so many, many more crucial conversations. Impending death seems to be one of those crucial conversations that sometimes is avoided, as if death itself could be avoided. The fact still remains, that death is and will always be a part of life, and facing it with acceptance instead of resistance or avoidance can actually enhance our living. Having the conversation can actually take the power out of the fear, for by facing it with courage and stating your wishes, the information is now clearly “out there” in the open, offering a direction when it is needed. Talking about death does not make it come faster.
Talking about end-of-life issues is a crucial conversation that can free us so we can live in peace until the end.
Recently, I had the honour of sitting with a family to discuss their loved one’s end of life. And while they came seeking answers, what I gave them were questions to ponder, so they could discover their own answers. I posed such questions as: What do YOU want? When you consider the visitation, who do you want to be there/who do you believe needs to be there? Do you even want one? When you picture the ceremony, what location do YOU picture it? What space do you visualize having the atmosphere and layout that YOU want? When you consider the ceremony, who do you want to speak /what message do you want to convey /what symbols do you want highlighted that honour this precious life/what music do you want to lift up? When you consider burial/scattering, what space do you feel would serve to honour their life most fittingly and would serve your sense of connection for visits? We sat with the questions, and were in awe at the answers that rose up from within each of them. And in that sacred time, this family had the most honest and courageous conversation that left them knowing where they stood as individuals and together. Opinions were shared. Rationales were given. And realizations were made. It was a crucial conversation that left them feeling a glimmer of peace. Was it easy? Not at all. Was it worth it? Most definitely!
In my role as a member of our local hospice board, I recently hosted a virtual seminar on Advanced Care Planning, and in that session the point was made very clearly by a lawyer, a palliative care physician, and a family member that conversations about health care directives and advanced care planning are invaluable. As our hospice motto says: “We cannot change the outcome, but we can affect the journey.” We affirmed that these conversations can affect the journey and support the end-of-life experience.
How do you begin these conversations? Start with yourself. Write down your own thoughts on all of these topics and then consider who needs to know this information. When you inform them, ask them if they too have considered these thoughts for their own life, and offer to support them in finding their own answers. Share this article with someone as a bridge to having this conversation and ask, “Have you ever thought about this?” Talk with your family doctor and let them know your wishes. Talk with a lawyer. Talk with the Funeral Home. There are people who are not only open to having these conversations, but are trained in how to navigate them with you and offer the support you need to gently address your final wishes with you.
If you need a little more information, you can visit our website at wjjonesandson.com. Under the Menu tabs: “Plan a Funeral”; “Plan Ahead” and “Resources” you will find helpful information.
For Advanced Care Information, please visit heartlandhospicemj.ca and in the Menu under Supportive Care you will find the Advanced Care Planning Section that includes the recently recorded webinar I spoke of and the link to an Advanced Care workbook called, “My Voice” produced by SHA.
It is said that “talk is cheap”, but I’d like to suggest that “crucial conversations” are invaluable. Here’s to finding the courage to have those crucial conversations.
Funeral Celebrant and Grief Support Worker
On behalf of W. J. Jones & Son Funeral Home and Crematorium