How to Have the End-of-Life Talk With Your Adult Children

For all the many discussions you’ve ever had with your children, your own mortality probably hasn’t been a conversation topic. That’s understandable. Talking about death often feels morbid and scary, both for the parent and the adult child alike. We also live in a society that generally shuns the concepts of aging, loss, and grief.

But talking about end-of-life issues can bring invaluable peace of mind for you and your family. As you know, not everyone gets the opportunity. Preparing and talking about them now can prepare everyone for a better tomorrow.

Steps to Take Before Talking to Your Children

Before you start talking to family members, it’s important to organize your own thoughts and needs. How much thought have you given your own death? Have you really allowed yourself to sit with the acceptance that life will undoubtedly end?

We spend so much time planning for the details of our life, but the end of life often feels like this taboo, abstract idea. It often only becomes real after experiencing multiple deaths.

But preparing for the end-of-life process doesn’t need to be inherently challenging. Taking steps now can avoid emotional turmoil later.

Keep in mind it’s never too early to get started. Life is so precious, and nothing is guaranteed. With that, getting your affairs in order when everything is going well can be one of the best gifts you give yourself and your family.

Here are some important steps to take:

Determine Your Power of Attorney

Your power of attorney (POA) determines who acts on your behalf after your death or if you become physically or mentally incapacitated. Most people choose a spouse, adult child, or another close friend as their POA. Consider selecting a backup person as well.

There are different types of POAs. For example, a durable POA lasts until you cancel to change it, a springing POA is triggered only during specific situations, and a medical POA makes healthcare decisions.

Without a POA, the court typically assigns a guardian or conservator. This, of course, makes everything more complicated, both for the particular patient and their end-of-life wishes and the for family members involved.

Create Your Advance Directive

Your advance directive is your living will, and it outlines wishes for medical treatment. This is especially important if you are no longer able to communicate your wishes.

Detailed advance directives include specific care options, including palliative care, resuscitation, organ donation, tube feeding, and hospice care.

Consider Setting Aside Funeral or Memorial Service Costs

Death isn’t free, and the average cost of a funeral is almost $8,000. It isn’t uncommon for loved ones to pitch in for funeral expenses, but you may want to plan for this cost in advance.

Moreover, it’s important to consider your own wishes. Do you intend to be buried or cremated? If buried, where, and have you purchased a burial plot? Do you have a headstone preference?

Consult with an Estate Attorney

You can accomplish all these tasks by working with a qualified estate attorney. This attorney also helps establish a will and trust. Wills only go into effect after death, but trusts can be used both during one’s life and after their death.

Many people have both a will and trust- at the very least, it’s worth consulting with a professional to see what’s best for your situation.

If you die without these legal directives, the courts typically distribute property based on state laws. These actions may go against your end-of-life wishes, and they often are responsible for causing resentment between family members.

Work Through Your Own Death Anxiety

Most of us have fears about death and dying. Death anxiety is a type of phobia that refers to an intense fear about being separated from loved ones or leaving loved ones behind after death.

Death anxiety can result in somatic symptoms and intense emotions of helplessness, discouragement, and terror. If you’re struggling, it’s important to practice self-care and strive to make life meaningful regardless of your fears. Seeking social support and cultivating more gratitude can also help.

Don’t Assume Your Children Know What You Want

No matter the specific circumstances, don’t automatically assume your family members know what to do. Even if you’ve verbally stated your wishes, your children may not remember what you said, especially if you only talked about it once.

And in your final days, there’s often a sense of extreme emotional distress among family members. Even if it’s a ‘good death,’ and the dying process is as ideal as it can be, you owe it to your children to talk to them beforehand.

So, plan to do it now- while you are healthy, lucid, and capable of having this conversation.

How to Talk To Your Children Openly About Death

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a dying person- and even if your children want to hold onto the belief that you’ll be around forever- reality is reality. At some point, you will be gone, and your family will grieve your absence.

Commit to being actively involved in these open discussions. They may be among some of the most important lessons you teach your children.

Be Honest About Your Health

Many parents want to shield their children from their own problems. This strategy may have been beneficial when you were kids were actually kids, but they are grown adults now.

It’s far more frustrating for someone to have to guess someone’s health status. And chances are, if you’re in physical pain or facing a serious medical condition, your children will notice subtle behavioral changes.

Apologize For Your Wrongdoings

If something you did is nagging at you- whether it happened last week or twenty years ago- consider apologizing for it now. That doesn’t mean your child will forgive you, and it doesn’t mean they’ll even want to talk about it.

But there’s something powerful about being in the here and now and wanting to make amends. You’re not perfect, but showing remorse highlights your ability to self-reflect and strive to do better.

Answer Their Questions and Solicit Feedback

Your children likely have opinions about your desires, medical decisions, and other parts of end-of-life care. It’s important that you create a safe environment where they can share their thoughts with you.

That doesn’t mean you have to change your intentions. But you should be willing to consider their viewpoint and think about how your actions impact others.

Remember that talking about death isn’t a one-time conversation. This is especially true if your physical symptoms change over time- or if your functional capacity ebbs and flows.

Spend Meaningful Time Together

More than anything, aim to make the end of life as sweet as possible. Spend time with the people who matter most to you. As much as possible, aim to be present and truly enjoy the company of your loved ones.

The reality is that we’re always dying, and death is the most natural process of life. But the more you stay engaged in life- despite its inevitable demise- the better the journey feels.

Write to Them

If you feel comfortable, consider journaling about your life or sharing some of your favorite memories with your children.

Don’t worry about capturing everything down perfectly. That’s not the point. When you are gone, your children will appreciate the tangible recollections you left for them, and your words carry beautiful stories about your life.

Accept Their Feelings and Discomfort

Remember that you can only control your own actions when it comes to your children.

It can be so hard to wrap our heads around the idea of death. And if you’ve had a strained relationship with your children, there be mixed emotions during this time.

Regardless, it’s important to try to practice acceptance. Your children are entitled to their feelings, needs, and values, even if they clash with your own.

How Therapy Can Help With End-of-Life Issues

Thinking about the end of your life may feel depressing. But truly accepting your death- and all that will entail- can provide an immense sense of freedom. Paradoxically, accepting your death allows you to live, and it can encourage you to make more intentional, conscious choices in the present moment.

Even if you aren’t experiencing a terminal illness, it’s important to consider this work. Remembering death ultimately allows us to live wholeheartedly. And preparing for it can create connection and peace with the people who matter most.

If end-of-life issues coincide with stress, I am here to help. Contact me today to get started on your journey.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759
(512) 988-3363

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