Don’t Leave End-of-Life Decisions to Your Children

My son’s wife’s grandfather is dying. He is in his 90’s and his body has given out. He told his granddaughter that he is ready to go and has stopped eating in order to facilitate his exit. As you can imagine, she cries every day. He lives states away and she and my son call Rudy daily. They have told him that they love him, want to make him proud, will say Kaddish for him and want to name a child after him. He says he loves them. He is happy that they will say Kaddish for him and name a child after him (his English name, please, he doesn’t really like his Hebrew name). The stars are aligned in that Rudy (Rudolph) is also my husband’s paternal grandfather’s name so it really is an all-family name.

They are fortunate to know what Rudy wants. They don’t want him to go, but they are able to talk to him. They want him to meet their children, but that won’t happen so they are sort of living out that part in advance. Rudy is quite comfortable talking about his life and death. What a blessing.

Someday your own child will be confronted with your deaths, you and your spouse. If you just let the end of life questions and decisions to fall on their heads at the same time they are coping with the lose of you, you are doing them no favors.  “Dad, how do you want me to bury you? How should I honor you, when the time comes?” Do whatever you want, whatever makes you happy, is NOT the answer.  I know young adults who are burdened with the challenge of this question. If a parent was raised in one religion and the child in a different one it is particularly hard on the child. Should the daughter observe the end-of-life traditions that are most familiar and comforting to her? Or should she make the effort to use the traditions of her parent?  If the parent will of zero guidance, what does that mean? Is my dad worried about telling me what he really wants? If I have to choose what will extended family members feel and say? What if I’ve been raised one religion and some of my siblings, another?

I am truly begging all of you parents to take responsibility for your burial plans. Be honest. It is a lot easier to deal when a parent says, “I want to be buried in my church’s graveyard with a priest doing the ceremony”, than having the parent hint around and say very little. If your child is an adult it is time for them to come to terms with who you are. While you are alive and healthy your child can ask questions, challenge your decisions, offer their own opinion in a friendly, open discussion.

My son has come to me in tears to say, “I love you. I don’t say that enough. I want to have a lot of memories of our life together when you finally go… which shouldn’t be for a VERY LONG TIME.”  We got the chance to share our love of each other and to plan more activities together. We will each be more attuned to our time together because death has touched us. It is a blessing.