Aviva Yoselis
Aviva Yoselis
Board Certified Patient Advocate

Why talk about death with your older parents?

My sister, who lives in California, heard a talk the other evening about “eldercation”, or how to talk about your parents’ health, to your parents.  She emphasized that as our life expectancy grows, so do our ‘elder years’.  Apparently, your 80’s are your new 70’s.

So, you may not need help in your 70’s but may begin to need more care in your 80’s.

I see this often in my work as a medical advocate. I have many clients who are in their mid to late 70’s and thankfully living independent and caregiver-free lives.  That is fantastic and I can only wish that for myself and my husband.

However, there is one thing that I have definitely learned in my professional career and my personal life, we are all dependent on the help of others, all the time. Just, when we’re young we can hide it better from ourselves.  As we age, it gets harder to disguise.  But it is always there, that interdependence.

I think, any woman after birth, or a family after suffering through a serious illness of a family member, understands this, viscerally.

But, it is still hard to accept.

So why throw that fact of dependence, and one’s mortality, into your ‘parents’ faces’? 

The other day I was sitting with a group of adult siblings, whose parents are mostly healthy, completely independent, and I’m telling them that they really need to have the discussion with their parents now, as to what their wishes are going forward, how they would like to be cared for when they can no longer care for themselves, do they want to be resuscitated if needed, would they want a feeding tube at the end of life, and so on.

One child asked, “But isn’t that offensive?  It makes me uncomfortable, like I’m being rude and disrespectful by bringing this up now, when nothing is happening.”

Photo by Ma’ayan Hubara

I answered her as I answer many people with this question.

Death really is inevitable.  And at some point, we need to make decisions about our loved ones that will involve death.

Now, we have a choice. We can either have that conversation over coffee and biscuits in the warm environment of our kitchen or, at 12 am in a cold hospital corridor with the doctor staring at us, waiting for our response.

I am not saying that you must force yourself to have these discussions with your parents if there is no common ground on this at all.  Some older people refuse to even mention the word death, and some adult children feel the ground would open up beneath their feet if they even broach the subject.

What I am saying is, make the conversation possible.  Perhaps one sibling does feel comfortable. Let them start the dialogue.  An aunt or uncle, a family doctor occasionally.  More importantly, discuss your opinions among yourselves.  Despite growing up in the same family, many siblings come to realize that they hold vastly different opinions about death and dying, sometimes only in that cold hospital corridor.

We are all dependent on the help of others, all the time. Just, when we’re young we can hide it better from ourselves.  As we age, it gets harder to disguise.  

Years ago, I conducted in-home workshops for women to learn about early detection for breast cancer.  Almost every class I heard the statement, “but I’m afraid to go. What if they find something?”

To which I always responded, “whether you go, or don’t go, the tumor will be/or will not be there.  Not going will not prevent that.”

The same is so true in this situation.  Whether you discuss or do not discuss this topic, at some point, decisions will have to be made, and you will be confronted with choices.

Wouldn’t it be better for you to pick the time and place?

If this topic about communicating with your siblings about your parents’ health interests you, please join my colleague, Tamar Meisel, medical coach, and me for the first in our caregiving for the caregiver series, “Why don’t we agree? Communication around caregiving”, July 6, 2021,  7 pm. sharp, as the beginning of a four-part online workshop series.

For more information, please write to us at aviva@healthadvize.com, or register directly here.

About the Author
Aviva Yoselis, MPH, BCPA, founder of and director of Health Advize, a social impact enterprise to improve healthcare access for all. She is an expert in the field of health research, health behavior modification, and shared medical decision making, with over 25 years of experience teaching about public health issues and health systems navigation. She has a broad understanding of the biological sciences, biostatistics, epidemiology, clinical trials, and current issues in healthcare. She holds a Masters Degree in Public Health and was the first person to become a board-certified patient advocate outside of North America. Prior to moving to Israel, Aviva worked in the USA in health education and advocacy for low-income minority communities
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