Ellie Greenberg

Dear Ellie

Think of Dear Ellie as your very own kitchen table, where you can discuss the things that are on your mind. Now that the boomers are turning 60 and those in the Greatest Generation are in their 70s, 80s, and 90swe are all blazing new trails in the third third of life. So, have a cup of coffee and let’s talk about life: the past, the present, and the future. [Editor's note: Dr. Greenberg no longer contributes to Silver Planet, but we have made her archived blog entries available as a service to our readers.]

How Do I Talk to My Parents About End-of-Life Issues?

By Elinor Miller Greenberg, EdD

Dear Ellie:

I am a married baby boomer in my late 40s and am fortunate to still have both my parents alive and healthy. My mom is in her mid-70s, and my dad is in his early 80s. They live in their own home not far from me and my family. We see them often, and they babysit for our five- and 1½-year-olds often.

We have become accustomed to their presence and assistance, and love them very much. But I am beginning to think about the very real possibility of their illnesses and deaths. I don’t want to be gloomy, but I am having a hard time bringing up issues that concern me: Where are their legal papers? Where is their safe-deposit box key? Where is their will? Do they have long-term care insurance? Do they have enough money to withstand a long illness or caregiving situation? Things like that.

How should I bring up these things with them, without being inappropriate or causing them to be disturbed? Bruce

Dear Bruce:

You are very fortunate to have had both of your parents for so many years. And you are especially fortunate that they live nearby and are so helpful with the grandchildren. But we all know that no one lives forever, and we all will lose our parents someday.

It’s very important that you think about when and under what circumstances you can talk to them about all the issues that are causing you anxiety: their potential illness and/or death, their legal papers and care arrangements, their housing and medical needs, and other matters. These are issues that must be addressed by every family and, hopefully, discussed before there is a crisis.

I suggest that you talk to your mother or father, whoever is easiest to approach, and arrange for a time for a family conversation. Ask if that conversation should be at their home or yours, or even in a quiet spot at a restaurant. Consider if you should bring your wife or speak to them alone. Make a list of issues and questions that you have. You can share that list with them before your date to talk, so that they can be prepared with the answers—or just use the list as notes to remind you of the topics you want to discuss.

Although every situation and family are different, we all share the same concerns and fears about our loved ones’ end-of-life issues. There is no easy way to talk about these matters. The principle rule is to be honest. At the same time, be sensitive and caring. As hard as it is for you to discuss these matters, remember that it is even harder for them. After all, it is the end of their lives that you are talking about!

Good luck. Ellie

By Elinor Miller Greenberg, EdD
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