4 Tips for Having “The Talk” With Your Parents

Here’s how to make the conversation a little easier for both you and your loved ones.

Middle-aged woman with senior motherPhoto: iStock by Getty Images

You probably remember a few times in your life when your parents sat you down for a serious conversation. And while those conversations may have been tough to sit through—and sometimes awkward!—you now realize how important they were. The time may have come for you to have another difficult conversation with your parents, this time about their wishes for their final arrangements.

Perhaps there’s been an event—a death in the family, for example—that got you thinking about your parents’ mortality. “Often times, it is illness or the loss of someone close that prompts others to have the discussion,” says Shannon Burberry, funeral director at Forest Lawn Funeral Home & Cemetery in London, Ontario. But you don’t have to wait until a major life event to have an open discussion with your parents about their end-of-life wishes.

Here, Burberry suggests some ways to make “the talk” go smoothly.

Don’t put off the conversation

Speaking to your parents about their final arrangements is one of the most difficult conversations you’ll have. But however challenging, it’s an important discussion that shouldn’t be put off.

According to Burberry, any time is a good time to have the talk. “Death is a part of our life cycle and discussing it openly and honestly as you would a birth, marriage or retirement is important,” she says. “Some people feel the discussion is less difficult when you are in good health, however we never know when our situation may change or tragedy could occur.” So you don’t want to rush the talk, but you also don’t want to wait until it’s too late.

Ease into the conversation

Don’t worry about finding the perfect location: “It is my belief that if the conversation is to arise, the setting doesn’t matter,” says Burberry. To ease into the talk, she suggests saying something along the lines of ‘I was reading an interesting article the other day about end-of-life planning. Have you thought about your own wishes?’

The subject is tricky, so don’t get discouraged if it takes a few tries to really get the conversation going.

Keep it light and speak from the heart

When speaking of taboo subjects, having a sense of humour can help put people at ease. In Burberry’s experience, humour is a tool that’s often used to start the discussion. Being open and sincere are also important: “Speaking from the heart and being honest will help to alleviate awkwardness,” says Burberry, who adds that people will pay more attention when they know it’s a conversation that matters to you. “Talking about your initial feelings are best, as it helps to eliminate some of the fear and stigma,” she says.

Document the conversation

Pre-planning final arrangements as a family will minimize ambiguity as to your parents’ wishes. It will also clarify the role that you and other family members can play in honouring your loved ones in the way they want to be remembered.

Not all family members will be present when decisions are being made, which is why you should always document these types of conversations. This way, your parents’ decisions will be clear and concise to everyone. This eases the stress on family members about having to agree on these important decisions. “Everyone is clear on what the wishes are and can find a meaningful role in the process,” says Burberry.

If you’re ready to have “the talk” with your parents, Arbor Memorial can provide you with guidance on having a respectful and meaningful conversation. For more information, go to arbormemorial.ca.