The time has come for that dreaded conversation with your children. I wish it was the one about sex. Love in the age of Corona virus means planning for illness and even death. This requires a dedicated discussion.
Much has changed in the way we communicate. In other times, I would suggest that clients use a family dinner – like Thanksgiving – as an opportunity for discussing their demise. These days, gathering family members may not be advisable and perhaps not even possible.
This is not a conversation for texting. I would urge that it is not a dialogue for email either. We have facetime, skype and zoom. Let’s use them. When discussing the meaning of our lives, how our assets will pass, and our hopes for the future of our family members, we need to see visual cues. The smiles, the tears, the smirks and the acknowledgements are critical parts of this conversation. And when having emotion laden conversations, we are less likely to absorb and comprehend. We might remember more of how we feel and less of what we learned.
To keep the conversation meaningful and purposeful, I offer the following suggestions:
- Bring paper and pen or a laptop. Be prepared to have everyone take notes. Write down questions and hold them until the person speaking has finished their thoughts. Jot down reactions, so you can deal with them later. Record information that you may want to revisit.
- Leave plenty of time for this conversation. Don’t start when you’ve got dinner cooking. A special conversation deserves an expanse of time.
- Start off being fully present. Acknowledge that this is a difficult topic. Let everyone express how they feel when talking about death and dying. Tears are not just acceptable; they are often helpful. Laughter is not an insult; it is a natural reaction.
- Create a schedule. Figure out how much you want to share and how long that should take. Remember, most people don’t focus for more than a few minutes at a time, even when discussing a grave and somber topic.
- If you are listening, give the person speaking plenty of time to share their thoughts. Limit initial responses to phrases like, “I hear you,” “I am listening,” and “do you need to say more?” The phrases to avoid are “you aren’t going to die,” “don’t say such things,” and “I don’t want to talk about this.”
- Figure out a person’s intention beyond their words. Even general statements about friends and relatives may only demonstrate an emotional response but do not represent actual plans. Accept the words but dig deeper for the meaning. Whatever your role in the conversation – here are some questions to ask yourself or others – what is most important to you? Do these choices impact relationships currently? Which is more important, your values and needs or other people’s feelings?
- Take note of whether a choice is made based mostly upon emotion or mostly upon rational thought. Neither guidance is wrong but understanding motivation can be liberating.
- When discussing choices, be very specific. Use detailed descriptions to minimize misunderstandings.
- My final thought here is to suggest you make no assumptions. Ask about needs. Inquire about desires. Don’t trust your instincts alone when making choices.
While praying containment mitigates the pandemic, I am also hoping that the crisis compels people to spend time exploring the issues of life and death. Healthy conversations are gateways to greater satisfaction and understanding.