“A man that has not prepared his own children for his death has failed as a father.”
My mum died almost a year ago. Most days the shock of it is still too much for my mind to bear.
I wasn’t ready for her to die. I hadn’t recovered from my issues as I’d planned, I hadn’t been able to share the experiences with her that I’d hoped for and finally, I hadn’t had meaningful conversations with her about her death. My mum occasionally made mention of it, alluded to it, but I avoided talking to her directly about it even though the reality of her mortality was ever-present. It often drove me to tears to think that one day she would no longer be here and I had no idea how I’d survive life without her.
Given that I wasn’t a fan of the movie Black Panther, it is strange that this quote came to mind but it did. It was the one moment in the film that truly resonated with me. A parent owes it to their child to prepare them for their death. No-one else can.
In my mum’s final year on earth, we wrote love letters to one another. I think she was preparing me for her death. We spoke with an uncommon frankness. I am grateful for all the moments we shared in spite of our geographical distance. Her gifts to me – her prayers, her words, her encouragement, her sense of assurance that I would overcome all my mental and physical difficulties come what may and thankfully, the gift of siblings – were the tools which helped me somehow manage and navigate ‘life after’. I’m still broken by her death but somewhere within me, I think I knew what was coming. I just wish I’d been brave enough to speak to her about death.
That missed opportunity is the reason I decided to write this post. Parent(s) and adult children need to have conversations about death. This post is a plea and a challenge to all parents and adult children.
You Need To Talk About Death.
Some say there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. Well, I beg to differ. The latter can be avoided with some smart wizardry on the part of a great accountant but the former, DEATH, comes to us all. Death is the only certainty of life. And so I write an open letter to parents and another to adult children to ask that they begin to engage in this conversation.
An Open Letter to All Parents of Adult Children
You owe it to your child(ren) to discuss your life and your death with them.
You owe it to your child(ren) to discuss you life story so they have a sense of belonging and identity and quite frankly, so they don’t end up with a headache writing your biography once you’re gone. You owe them the gift of your stories, your triumphs and failures, your funny moments and even your hopes for them because these things will carry them once you’re gone.
You owe it to your children to have a will and to discuss the contents and location of your will with them lest its absence become a source of contention once you are no more.
You owe it to your child(ren) to discuss your burial wishes because it will either add to or lessen the burden of your death.
You owe it to your child(ren) to have a life insurance policy or to make some kind of provision for your funeral lest your child(ren) be broken by financial loss as well as the inevitable loss of their parent.
You owe it to your child(ren) to leave them with your words through love letters or recordings or something which will continue to exist when you’re long gone lest your children forget the sound of your voice and your words of encouragement.
You owe it to your child(ren) to encourage them to continue to live life fully in spite of the murky waters of depression which inevitably come with grief because they will never have experienced anything like it and the confusion and insanity which oftentimes accompanies grief can fracture even the strongest mind.
You owe all this and much more to your child(ren) because grief makes of every adult a child. And just as you would protect a child, so you must protect your child from and prepare your child(ren) for the harsh realities of death.
Should you choose not to have this discussion with your child and they by dint of some unspeakable power choose to broach the subject with you, it does not mean they are wishing or praying your life away. It does not mean they are plotting your death. It simply means they have chosen to confront their worst nightmare – the inevitability of your death.
Please do not chide, cast them away or defer the topic until ‘another day’ for tomorrow is not assured for any of us, child or parent.
And finally, if Mufasa can have ‘that talk’, so can you.
An open letter to all adult child(ren)
Dear Adult Child,
You owe it to yourself and to your parents to have this conversation. Speaking to your parents about their own death will not hasten their death. It may be one of the most difficult conversations you will ever have but you owe it to yourself to have this conversation. The process will enrich you and give you a chance to begin the work of coming to terms with the inevitable.
It will give you a chance to avoid some of the pain which comes with grief. It will give you a chance to avoid arguments with relatives about your parents’ wishes.
It will give you a chance to begin to do now the things you will wish you had done once they are no more. It will open your eyes to the good fortune you have of still having your parent(s) alive but it comes with inevitable sadness so bring along a box of tissues.
It will give you a chance to confront your own immortality and perhaps prompt you into really beginning to live rather than sleepwalking your way through life.
It will give you a chance to talk to your parents about their life story – their place of birth, their own parents (your grandparents), their childhood, their highs and lows, their advice. Think of all the gaps in your knowledge when it comes to your parents and ask them questions. Their story, their stories, will equip you will an unrivalled sense of belonging and identity. It will help you understand them better and it will help you feel a little less lost once they are no more.
You need to ask your parents whether they have a will, where on earth it is, where and how they wish to be buried and whether they have made any kind of provision for their funeral because it will save you such heartache when they die.
The word ‘Death’, is not an infectious disease. You cannot catch it by talking about it and you do not will it into being by making mention of it.
As humans beings, we are all ‘guilty’ in one way of another of avoiding or trying to avoid death. We avoid the word itself when we speak of ‘losing’ someone, of someone ‘passing away’, of someone ‘going to a better place’ instead of calling it what it is – DEATH. And oftentimes we avoid the products of death, the corpse of a loved one, grief itself and in many cases we avoid the grieving because the raw emotions of those who grieve can elicit fear and a sense of helplessness on the part of the onlooker.
But the truth is that avoidance of the topic does not prevent death and more importantly it does not make death when it eventually comes, any easier to bear.
If after reading this post you still feel unable to talk about death with your loved one, please print the open letters and share both with your parent or your adult child. Alternatively, direct them to this post.
This post is intended as a feather rather than a stick, a trigger rather than a bullet.
I hope it helps one or some confront the topic of death.