real life

Why are the most important conversations always the most awkward?

NSW Government
Thanks to our brand partner, NSW Government

For some reason, my dad really likes to have the awkward and serious conversations in the car. I don’t know why he decided that the car was the place for it, but he did. So all the big conversations of my life involving him have happened in the car.

I guess you can’t escape, so when your dad starts discussing the ins and outs of safe sex your options are sink low in the seat and mumble responses, or try and flee at the next red light. (I considered rolling out onto the road, but in the end I decided to endure it).

The truth is my family is pretty good at the tough conversations. We just get them done. Usually we lubricate with alcohol, or we’re just trapped in a car, often with the Jurassic Park soundtrack playing. But even though we tackle sex, mental health, family secrets and relationships with enthusiasm and a real lack of fear, there’s one topic we never used to be great on.

Obviously, the older I get, the older my parents get. Which at some point stops being obvious and starts causing you, and them, a bit of anxiety.

What will happen when they’re unable to look after themselves? Who will step in? What do they want? Have they thought about end of life care? Luckily for me, my parents are young. They are both under 60, and I’m assuming that means they will live forever because science will step in at some point in the next 20 years and solve this whole death thing.

important conversations
“What will happen when they’re unable to look after themselves? Who will step in?” Image via iStock.

But I am also old enough to know that’s not realistic. That things change, and illness can come at any time and with any speed and consequences.

ADVERTISEMENT

I know, because I’ve seen it with my grandparents, and also, my great grandparents (told you my parents were young). One day they were independent and happy, capable of living alone. The next they weren’t. And they needed help.

It started out small, with just little things like not being able to bend over and clean out the cat litter, or needing someone to drive them to the shops, but the problem is, once that slide starts, things can change very quickly. It can soon be too late to find out their wishes and the choices they would like made, when they can no longer make decisions for themselves.

It’s a simple fact that it’s often too late to ask someone what they want, when a decision has to be made.

important conversations
It starts small, not being able to bend over to feed the cat or empty the litter tray. Image via iStock.

We had some of these issues last year, when my grandmother could no longer live on her own and had to be moved into full-time care. Thankfully my grandmother had put plans in place and appointed an Enduring Guardian who knew what she wanted when the time came and she couldn’t live at home on her own any longer. The experience has made me so much more aware of my own mortality, and the important conversations I need to have now. They might not be easy conversations, but they are really important.

Luckily my mum feels the same way. Now knowing what happens when plans aren’t fully mapped out in advance, she is writing her planning ahead documents.  She wants to have all of her end of life care and finances sorted out and then she wants to talk to my brother and me about it. It sounds macabre, and it definitely doesn’t fit in with my “science is going to ensure my parents live forever” plan, but I know it’s necessary.

ADVERTISEMENT

These documents, writing a Will, organising a Power of Attorney with clear instructions about managing your finances, picking someone you trust to take on the responsibility of being your Enduring Guardian, and deciding on end-of-life healthcare are important and vital at a time when we are living longer than ever, and diseases like dementia are on the rise.

important conversations
Deciding on end-of-life healthcare is important. Image via iStock.

You’re not planning to get old and be helpless, but these legal documents enable you to do the exact opposite. These documents give authority to your choice of attorney and guardian to make financial and lifestyle decisions when you are unable to, whilst respecting your wishes.

My grandfather used to live alone in a flat that was up a flight of stairs. He had a few problems, and we all got worried that he would need to be moved but wouldn’t want to do it. He has always been a realist, and a stubborn (but wonderful) man. So he called his sons who were his appointed Enduring Guardian and Power of Attorney and they helped to arrange to have him moved into full-time care close by.

When I visit him now he says he knows he made the right decision, and even though he might not like everything about his life now, he knows he’s where he needs to be. I know he has more peace of mind because he helped to make those decisions.

So even if I think it’s macabre, I also know first-hand that planning really does give peace of mind.

How have you planned ahead?

00:00 / ???