Questions for Aging Parents (or Lets Talk about Something Besides Funeral Arrangements)

Senior woman with her granddaughter talk to each other.

Recently I spotted a blog post someone shared on Facebook about conversations that adult children should have with their aging parents.  As expected, every topic centered on financial documents, healthcare power-of-attorney and the granting thereof, end-of-life care, and even the specifics of funeral arrangements.

Having travelled alongside both parents through their illnesses and deaths from cancer, I am uniquely situated to understand the importance of discussing all of the above.  I truly wanted the authority to speak for my parents in medical situations in order to uphold their wishes faithfully.  It also helped to know the location of pertinent financial documents and assorted relevant papers.  Being able to sort out those matters while they were still able to communicate lessened the stress of making decisions during their illnesses and handling all that had to be accomplished in the immediate aftermath of their deaths.

Nevertheless, the post’s authoritative declaration that the most important conversations all pertain to healthcare planning, advance directives, power-of-attorney, and funeral arrangements left me feeling empty and a little sad that I focused on them to the exclusion of other meaningful dialogue.  The following are some of the things I wish I had asked my parents after their respective diagnoses:

  • If life had offered you three “do-overs,” how would you have used them, if at all?
  • What societal transformations have you readily embraced; what changes have you most disliked?
  • If you could spend a day some place from your childhood, where would it be, and what would you do?
  • Who most influenced your life?
  • Where would like to travel if health, money, and time were not obstacles?
  • What hopes and dreams of yours came true?
  • What accomplishments/disappointments continue to encourage/haunt you?
  • Is there anyone it would help you to talk with before your life ends?
  • What do you consider to be your legacy, and is it anything like you imagined when you were younger?
  • How do you want your life to be described?

Although not exhaustive, these topics move beyond the sterile, albeit necessary, discussion of finances, legalities, and healthcare that tend to dominate conversations with aging parents.  They allow the opportunity to focus on “who you are” in addition to “what next.”  For all who still have time, think about the conversations you really want to have with parents in their golden years.  There is so much more to learn beyond whether they want a DNR order.