When it comes to having difficult conversations, chatting about your end of life wishes has to be up there with the most sensitive of topics.
However, it seems that most older Australians are now facing the task head on and have sat down with their nearest and dearest to go over their desires for what happens when they die.
From ‘do not resuscitate’ orders to treatment which can prolong life, and funeral plans to the location you wish to have your ashes scattered, there are a myriad of decisions that you can have a say in to make sure that your life comes to an end on your terms.
While these topics can cause upset among children, grandchildren and other family members, laying out a clear plan can also make things easier for the loved ones you leave behind when the time comes.
We asked the Starts at 60 community to participate in a poll to see what proportion of readers had braved the topic, or whether they were unsure about how to bring the topic up.
One hundred people responded to the question: “Have you sat down and spoken to your loved ones about your end of life choices?” and selected one of the following four options; ‘Yes, my family are clear about what I want’; ‘Yes, but it did not go to plan’; ‘No, I don’t want to burden them’; ‘No, I don’t know how to bring it up’.
An overwhelming majority said they’d already had a conversation with their partner, family or friends about what they want, with 93 per cent of respondents confessing to having discussed their wishes for health care, resuscitation orders, funeral plans and more.
Of those who had discussed the topic, 96 per cent said their relatives were clear about their wishes, while just four per cent said they’d had the discussion but it had not gone to plan.
Jan Hall shared her personal experience with us, revealing that she and her late husband had formalised their wishes just two weeks before her husband unexpectedly passed away.
She said: “My late husband and I did ours and I’m glad we did, as he passed away within a fortnight and we didn’t see that coming.
“I have even listed my songs and paid for my funeral outright, as well as putting together some photos for the audio set up as you never know what’s around that corner.”
Linda Wheeler said: “My daughters both know that if my makeup isn’t done exactly how I do it, and my hair likewise, followed by a full RC mass I’ll come back and haunt the pair of them. As for my shell, put it in a bin for all I care. I won’t be here to complain.”
Reader Valerie Bush knows exactly where she’d like her final resting place to be, saying: “I have always wanted a natural burial in a shroud if possible. My family are all aware and I have stated this in my will.
“There are approved natural burial sites in most states. These allow for burial without a coffin in a natural environment allowing nature to take its course. Pesticides and herbicides are not used and native vegetation is restored and protected.”
Community blogger Barbara Easthope has authorised two of her sons to act as executors, adding: “Since my cancer they realise it might be me who dies before my 13-year older husband so the son [in] Australia, who’ll be the one to make these decisions, has paid some attention and my husband knows what I want.”
However, despite making her own intentions known, Barbara added that she isn’t clear about what her husband wants.
Others have left less strict instructions for their families, with Rhonda Daniel and Margaret Havey revealing they wish to be buried in a $350 coffin from Costco, but no funeral service. Rhonda said that if her loved ones wished to hold a memorial service in her honour “they can do at their leisure”.
And not everyone’s wishes include a typical funeral, with Robyn McCoy revealing she has told her family that she wants her ashes to be loaded into a rocket which will be released during a fireworks celebration, in place of a typical wake where relatives will tuck into fairy floss and dagwood dogs.
“Even my grandkids know I’m going to be a star one day and everyone’s cool with it,” Robyn said.
However some readers hadn’t had as much luck, with seven per cent answering ‘no’ to the question.
Of those who have not discussed end of life choices with their families, the majority (86 per cent) admitted to avoiding the topic as they do not wish to be a burden to their loved ones. While 14 per cent confessed to feeling unsure about how to bring up the topic to kickstart the conversation.
Reader Joan Rowe told us that she has tried to bring up the topic with her sons, but “they won’t talk about it”. She said: “The boys won’t talk about it. I think every time I am in hospital they get scared. Once they know I am coming home, they relax and start behaving like boys again.”
It was a similar story for Sanjuana Martinez who said her adult sons physically get up and leave the room whenever she tries to discuss death. While Dorothy Stumer admitted that she hadn’t given the idea much thought, commenting: “I haven’t talked to mine…will give it some thought first.”
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