'Tis the Season for Difficult Conversations

Nobody likes dwelling on mortality, and conversations about death tend to be "downers" - not least during the otherwise-joyful holiday season. And yet, talking candidly with your family members about end-of-life issues is imperative. And for many families, the holiday season is the best time to do it, simply because the whole family is actually together.

Consider: Should your parents pass away unexpectedly, do you know their wishes for a funeral or memorial service? Do you have a clear understanding of their desires for their estate? And should something unthinkable happen to you, will you be leaving your own kids with a clear plan - or simply with burdens?

For many families, end-of-life preparations go neglected and ignored - but simply having a conversation can be clarifying and even encouraging.

Over this holiday season, we encourage you to have "The Talk" with your family members. That doesn't necessarily mean hammering out all the issues on the spot, but it does mean getting the conversation going - encouraging everyone to think sensitively yet strategically about end-of-life issues.

Some quick tips and guidelines for starting this conversation, for keeping it positive and productive, and some brief bullet points to consider:

  • When having The Talk, it's vital to pick a good time and a comfortable place.
  • Ask questions about your parents or aging family members. Learn their story. Get them talking about what matters most to them.
  • Remember to keep it collaborative and conversational. Your loved ones may have different beliefs than yours - but your point is to learn, not judge.
  • Offer help to your aging family members - help in planning, organizing, cleaning their home, sorting through their things, or whatever they need.
  • Get everyone involved - including siblings and other family members, as appropriate.
  • Be patient. People may need some time before they're ready to start talking seriously about end-of-life details. Remember that your aim is to start the conversation.

Don't delay in having The Talk. And don't put it off just because of the holidays. In truth, this may be the ideal time to engage your loved ones in a conversation.