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Ltryptophan's avatar

Is there an appropriate time and way to speak with elderly loved ones about death?

Asked by Ltryptophan (11920points) December 13th, 2016

My grandmother passed away. I never really spoke with her about dieing. She wasn’t really that type of conversationalist. I think that would have been too macabre to discuss with her.

My maternal grandmother on the other hand did speak with me about death long ago. She wasn’t happy about it. She was scared. She laid it at my teenage feet as if I might have an explanation or a clue as to how to console her. I think I did. I think being able to say it to me was helpful. It might have been enough to impress on me that her mortality was imminent. Maybe it was a primal way that humans crave each other, and a unifying act that is part of why I am the extremity of her own existence. A withering oak warning an acorn.

I thought of the elderly that I will meet as time goes on in my life. As my own parents age I’m sure this topic will be there. Looming. Maybe it’s better to ignore it until it is impossible to ignore. Keep it a distant thought. Nothing more than a curt chat of a burial policy, and the keeping of their wills.

I know my parents. It is not so much for their sake that I ask, but instead all the others that I might inevitably need to comfort. Perhaps it’s best to use my own hard earned judgment. To listen. To be human, and refocus on the life that still is.

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9 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

The topic has come up at various times, usually after someone close or famous has passed and we are discussing the funeral and the service. I have had the conversation arise in the same way with my kids.

In my family, we are realistic enough to know we aren’t going to escape it, so it is best to know each other’s desires for how to be disposed.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I’ve brought up the topic of Wills and that often leads into the subject. I mention how easy it was to do a will and offer some help if needed. If they want to talk about other things that is fine.

Bill1939's avatar

As a hospice volunteer, I have sat with many people in their final stage of life. There were instances when they spoke about their imminent demise. Some were religious. Although my beliefs about spirituality are markedly different from theirs, I endorsed their view and often prayed with them and with their family upon their death. Others would speak about events in their lives that troubled them. I would help them to see a larger perspective wherein their part had been the best that they could have done. This often appeared to help.

I believe that how you have responded to your maternal grandmother was best. My parents never discussed death with me and I would never have considered initiating that conversation. If they had, I would not have tried to tell them my thoughts and feelings on this subject unless asked. As you wrote, it is best to use your own judgment about how to respond to those facing death; listen to them with empathy, and to remind them of the value that their life has been and continues to be to those they love.

snowberry's avatar

I am aware that many on this site are not Christian, however with those in my family who are, it’s never “Goodbye,” but just “See you later.” We’ve always found reminding each other of this to be a comfort.

canidmajor's avatar

I am fortunate that in my family it has never been treated as a taboo or frightening subject. We have always discussed it in an extremely practical way, by the time someone has reached their time we are all prepared.

janbb's avatar

My parents were pretty good about being open and honest about their wishes and feelings. However, I remember when my Dad really was dying and I said to him, “It’s ok, Dad, you can let go” he said, “Let go? Let go of what?”

I think each relationship is different and you have to take your cues from the older person. You can gently introduce the subject and see where it goes, but the best is to follow their lead unless there are practical matters that you need to know about.

Everyone deals with dying in their own way.

zenvelo's avatar

An example of how it would come up in my family:

My mother always had a radio tuned to a classical station on in the kitchen. One Saturday, Beethoven’s Ninth “Ode to Joy” movement came on, and she said, “I want that played at my funeral.” She was in her forties at the time. We had quite the conversation at lunch over desires for funeral arrangements.

ibstubro's avatar

Generally elder relatives signal when they’re ready to discuss end-of-life decisions.
I’m 55, and I’ve sent the signals and made the decisions.
I know I will eventually die, but I’m unable to schedule anything after.

LornaLove's avatar

Mostly when they bring it up themselves I’d imagine. However, important things like wills and what is to be done after a person dies should be discussed.

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