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Talking About Death with Your Family

The current coronavirus pandemic  demonstrates how many of us are not prepared for an unsuspected, serious, illness or death. A New York Times piece by Dr. Sunita Puri reiterates what many of us in the funeral industry have been saying for a long time: It’s Time to Talk About Death.

“Our collective silence about death, suffering and mortality places a tremendous burden on the people we love, and on the doctors and nurses navigating these conversations. We should not be discussing our loved one’s wishes for the first time when they are in an I.C.U. bed, voiceless and pinned in place by machines and tubes,” Puri writes.

Phaneuf’s funeral directors have worked with thousands of families struggling to make last-minute decisions while struck with grief, stress and anxiety. It’s why we encourage having these important conversations with loved ones while they’re still healthy.

Physical contact is limited due to the coronavirus, but fortunately families can still connect on the phone or via video-sharing apps. For the coming months, video sharing will be the reality for most extended families and friends.

Puri says Americans are not good at talking about death. But death is a certainty for 100% of the population, so preparing for when—not if—it happens is smart. “The coronavirus is accelerating this need,” he wrote.

“Talking about death is ultimately talking about life—about who and what matters to us, and how we can live well even when we are dying. Rather than being motivated by fear and anxiety, we can open these discussions from a place of care and concern,” Puri wrote.

Phaneuf is aligned with the Talk of a Lifetime project, which eases family members into talking about things they normally avoid. Talk of a Lifetime offers questions to get people thinking and talking about  what’s really important, such as:

  • What is a life lesson you learned that you think would be helpful to pass on to the younger generations of our family?
  • Fill in the blank: I was so proud after I _______ .
  • What is the best advice your parents (or grandparents) ever gave you?
  • What is the thing you would love people to remember about you most?

Dr. Puri asked and answered his own questions after working in a hospital surrounded by those suffering from Coronavirus:

  • “What is most important to me in my life? (My family and pets, and the ability to write).
  • What makes my life meaningful? (My work, dancing, being outdoors, and being with my loved ones).
  • What sort of quality of life would be unacceptable to me? (Being permanently bed-ridden or neurologically devastated; indignity and suffering; depending on others for personal care).
  • Who is best positioned to speak on my behalf? (My brother).”

You might be surprised at how easily talking about happy memories can blend into discussing advance directives. It’s not morbid. It’s productive and will ultimately help your family through some trying times.

Puri concluded: “Confronting our fears about death—having a conversation about it in frank terms—can be alternately terrifying and tender. Yet knowing how to honor our loved ones’ wishes when they can’t speak for themselves is one of the bravest and most loving things we can do.”

Access more information on the Talk of a Lifetime with this download, and you can always reach out to me directly with any questions at buddy@phaneuf.net.

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