What questions should a child ask their parent before the parent dies?
November 22, 2005 12:05 PM   Subscribe

What questions should a child ask their parent before the parent dies?

My mom's body is shutting down, and it doesn't really sound like she'll be around much longer. I'm going to visit next month (she lives rather far away), and that might be the last time I see her. We were never very close, so I don't even know what her feelings about resuscitation are, or cremation vs. burial or any of that, and I assume that as her son, I'll at least need to agree with her brother's decisions about hospice stays and funeral arrangements, if not make them myself. I have no idea if she has a will or anything like that, either.

So what should the eldest son of an unmarried woman ask to make her death easier to deal with, and to make sure that her desires for the end of her life are met?
posted by cmonkey to Human Relations (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry to hear about your mon, cmonkey!

I've never had to deal with funeral arrangements, but when my grandmother was dying, I sat on the edge of her bed with a notebook and asked her to tell me all of her recipes. She was a great cook, but she worked through improvisation rather than through cookbooks. So she had to estimate measurements.

I felt a little self-serving doing this. But my mom came to me later and thanked me for making my grandmother so happy.

Maybe your Mom doesn't cook. It doesn't matter. You can make her death easier by spending time with her, talking to her (and listening to her) about things that matter to her. Make her feel like her life has been worthwhile. Ask her to tell you her life story, her childhood memories, etc.
posted by grumblebee at 12:17 PM on November 22, 2005

Sit down with your mother and your uncle (since you mention that he will be making some of the decisions) and ask her what you can do for her. My mother, great aunt and I had to do this with my estranged grandfather a couple years back. We each have a copy of the notes, so that if anything happens to him, one of us can take care of it.

Some questions to consider: has she pre-paid for a funeral/purchased a plot? Where is her will? Does she have a family cemetary where she would like to be buried? Does she want any religious ceremony performed at the funeral or prior to her passing (ie: last rites)? What type of memorial would she like, where? Anything she would like noted in the obituary/eulogy?

Who would she like notified when she passes? Has she promised any of her belongings to friends/relatives, or would she like to? Who will be the executor of her estate? What debts will the estate need to settle? Is there anything she would like to do/have/experience one more time (or maybe for the first time) before she passes?

Let her make her own choices, don't push for one thing or another. Having a say in these decisions may make her feel more at ease, so that she can, through you, tie up the loose ends herself. She may have things she'd like to do for the sake of closure.
posted by SassHat at 12:20 PM on November 22, 2005

My dad wanted to be sure that we'd all be OK. He didn't want to hear how much we'd miss him, how sad we'd be. He didn't want to tell stories of his life, or even hear how much we all loved him. He wanted to know that life would go on for us. He wanted to be sure we had all the details of his estate, that his funeral was taken care of, that Mom's bills would be paid, that his grandkids' college expenses would be paid, that sort of thing. Any consoling that we did was based on that--yes, it's OK, you've taken care of things.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:29 PM on November 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

Cmonkey, this is a very hard time in your life. I'm sorry. I know some of the details of your life...so yeah, I can buy that you're a distant son.

Does she know she's dying? Don't be the one to tell her. Let the Docs have that one.

More like...You're very sick...What can I do to make you more comfortable? Is there a book, movie, food, I can get you? Think comfort!

Involve the doctor...they have to ask these things all the time. From an authority figure is easier than a child.
Also Bring the doctor in for the: Do you want a DNR (tough question)? Do you have a will?
Those are tough questions - a neutral party...rather than her son/brother should be easier.

Then you can ask if she has any arrangements made.

If you and your uncle disagree with her funeral arrangements, don't tell her. Yeah, I'm talking about doing what's right for the survivors.

When I read this, I think about my father's dementia, and all the things I wished I had asked him

So for yourself, if she's cognizant:
What do you wish I knew?
What was the biggest mistakes I've made so far in life (and how do I fix them, if I haven't?)
What was your proudest moment of me?
posted by filmgeek at 12:47 PM on November 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

I can sympathize; my mom is very slowly dying of two pretty painful diseases. We've had conversations about her wishes; I have both financial and medical power of attorney for her, should it become necessary, and I'm the executor of her will as well.

She lives in Texas, while I live in Chicago. When I moved up here, she got lonely, and moved up here as well. The cold weather was murder on her body, so she moved back to Texas. I try to visit her at least once a month, more if possible.

Like grumblebee, I've been compiling her recipes, at her request; she wants to try and publish a cookbook, or for me to publish one for her, maybe as part of a memoir.

I second the suggestions made by others in the thread.
posted by weirdoactor at 1:07 PM on November 22, 2005

My best to you cmonkey.

This is something I've thought about recently because of my older brother's untimely passing. He basically collapsed at work, and when they got him to the hospital, he was brain dead. He didn't have a will, living trust, or any other "plans". My younger brother and my father and I decided to "pull the plug". But, long story short, it made us aware of our own concerns for our "final plans". Which we have all done, or are all in the process of doing.

So... It seems this is a two parter. One, the "business"; funeral preferences, will, etc. You seem to have that down. And two, the "personal"; what does Mom want to tell you, what do you want to tell Mom, etc. I say be as open and supportive as possible. If she wants to talk, let her (and listen). If not, let her not.

But if it were me, and my Mom (who died in 1980) were dying, and she was open to talk, I'd (taking a cue from grumblebee) bring a notepad and ask about; recipes, family stories (how she and Dad met, her experiences teaching), family history, relatives.

So for yourself, if she's cognizant:
What do you wish I knew?
What was the biggest mistakes I've made so far in life (and how do I fix them, if I haven't?)
What was your proudest moment of me?
posted by filmgeek at 12:47 PM PST on November 22 [!]

Ditto. (Damn you filmgeek, you made me cry!)
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 1:48 PM on November 22, 2005

What was the best part?
posted by jopreacher at 2:48 PM on November 22, 2005

Right now you might not be into your family history but that time might come, like it did for me recently. Your mother knows things about your family that can't be found out anywhere else. Talk to her about her parents and grand-parents. Hopefully she'll like talking about this and you'll have some stories that may become invaluable to you in the future.
posted by meech at 3:04 PM on November 22, 2005

Don't use a notebook. Audio recording of some kind. The most unobtrusive way you can and still get decent quality.

Not only will you then have a record of your mother telling you the things she tells you in her own voice, but you'll better be able to concentrate on the conversation - eye contact, paying attention to subtle cues, etc.
posted by anastasiav at 4:00 PM on November 22, 2005

jopreacher - Was that directed to me? I was just passing my best wishes on to cmonkey. Sorry for any derail.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 4:09 PM on November 22, 2005

i'm sorry for your impending loss. i've learned along the way there are 5 things to say to someone when they are dying:

forgive me
i forgive you
i love you
thank you

tough stuff. good luck.
posted by brandz at 6:49 PM on November 22, 2005

ObscureRefMan- No - It was the question that the main character in "City of Angels" always asked as he (an angel) escorted people to heaven. As in - What was the best part of your entire life? The little girls answer was "fuzzy pajamas."

I guess some of those other questions just seemed very "me" focused - and not as focused on the person who is going through the last moments of life. Thought I would offer an alternative.
posted by jopreacher at 8:55 PM on November 22, 2005

Ask her about how she'd like to be remembered, what she wants other people to know about her when she's gone. Being able to say to a future spouse or child, "My mom wanted you to know ..." could be a powerful thing for both her and the recipient.

See if you can't put your hands on a stack of photographs of her. Ask her which ones she likes best. Use her favorite in the obituary and at any sort of memorial service you're planning. At my mother's service, we made a stack of small photographs that guests could take for themselves. It seemed to go over well, and I still see these photos in their houses. My mom placed a lot of importance on her appearance and being able to select these photos in advance made her happy.

Ask her if there's any unfinished business you can help with after she passes, people to see or messages to deliver. Ask her if there's anything along those lines you can do for her now, people you can gather round and coordinate. If there's anyone she'd rather not see or deal with, make sure you know who those people are and how she'd like them dealt with. News of an impending death spreads like wildfire and can, at times, bring unexpected people out of the woodwork. Having a plan for them helps.

When my mother died, I realized one day while preparing her house for sale and sorting through her things that death really blows the lid off privacy. Ask her about her boundaries and what you can do to preserve her right to a private life after she's gone.

Ask her about what she wants and doesn't want when her time to pass draws near. My mother was really confused and medicated before she died, and while that wasn't entirely preventable, I feel that things would've been better if I'd known more about what she wanted. Knowing clearly what she doesn't want will help to prevent stress for everyone involved, especially if her ability to communicate is compromised. Keep a large marker and pad of paper nearby for this purpose. In my mother's last days she was unable to speak due to fluid in her lungs, yet had enough energy to use a marker and paper. She was relieved to be able to communicate this way, and several things she wrote proved important later on.

Having music on hand for yourself, and for her, can be a nice thing. Ask her what she'd like to listen to. Being able to listen to music was an incredible gift, as it provided a certain amount of mental privacy in a very public and disturbing place. Same goes for books on tape. It might seem a little wasteful of your time with her, but I found that there were many points during my mother's experience where she was too exhausted to have a conversation but not asleep. The silence, or rather, the artificial silence in a hospital or facility isn't always welcome. On that note, my mother had a fabulous time listening to Ram Dass lectures. Some of them deal directly with death, and regardless of philosophical/religious leanings, they were gentle enough that I'd recommend them to just about anyone else in the same situation. FWIW, I'm not a cheeseball newager in any sense of the word and yet I still found value in what he had to say. Perhaps someone more familiar with his work or similar works can suggest a specific title.

What I didn't expect, and what I really wish I'd known before having to go through it, was that dying can sometimes last a long time. Day and night merge and exhaustion sets in really fast. Be sure to take care of yourself as best you can.

Thank you for asking this question.
posted by cior at 12:24 AM on November 23, 2005

My sister is a musician, and when my grandfather was dying my parents played him a cassette of a recital she had done. That made him happy. He also enjoyed planning for his funeral - he requested a specific poem for my aunt to read, and asked my sister and me to play music.

So asking about the funeral can be productive.
posted by altolinguistic at 2:11 AM on November 23, 2005

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