But, the notion of mortality often serves to remind folks about how short life is, along with the importance of making amends and leaving relationships in the best possible health while you're still able to do so. Whether the relationship in question is good or tough, it's worthwhile to have certain conversations and ask specific questions before a loved one passes, according to experts.
“The biggest regret I hear from most people after the passing of someone they loved was that they wished they shared how they truly felt about the person.” —Jennifer Kowalski, LPC, grief counselor
Below, a grief and loss counselor and psychologist share the top topics they've found people regret not having talked through, along with the questions to ask a loved one before they die.
7 conversations topics to have and questions to ask a loved one before they die
1. How much you appreciate them
“The biggest regret I hear from most people after the passing of someone they loved was that they wished they shared how they truly felt about the person,” says Jennifer Kowalski, a licensed professional counselor at Thriveworks, who specializes in grief and loss. “They wonder if they really know how much they were loved.”
2. What their final wishes are
Such wishes can take many forms, whether logistical following their death, or relational for how they want you to continue paving your life's path forward.
For instance, Kowalski says it's smart to know whether they want to be buried, cremated, have a funeral, or have small service, or something else. There could also be logistic implications for their finances or assets (especially if they have not created a will or estate plan, but more on that later).
Regarding their relational wishes, perhaps they want you to be more compassionate with others, or lean on other loved ones, or carry on their legacy in a specific way. In either case—logistical or relational—you can't know for sure unless you have the conversation.
3. Whether you've forgiven them
If the relationship in question is one in which you’ve experienced pain, offering forgiveness—and actually telling them you forgive them—may help. “They may not ask about it, but they may be wondering,” says Janette Rodriguez, PsyD, owner of eulogy writing service The Gift of Eulogy. “Both you and them may find it comforting.”
If you legitimately cannot offer forgiveness for whatever issue transpired? In that case, “identify what kind wishes or words you have for them at this point,” Dr. Rodriguez suggests. “For example, ‘I am wishing you peace as you transition.’” You can also acknowledge the tumultuous relationship and thank them for how it gave you the opportunity to grow, she adds.
4. Their financial situation, will, and loose ends regarding assets
It’s important to have hard money conversations, as finances can affect the people left behind. Kowalski suggests discussing debt, where their will is, login information to various accounts, and the like. Specificity is also important in these discussions. For example, “if there are multiple children who want Mom’s wedding ring, that is going to lead to a rift among the kids” unless it's discussed beforehand, she says.
Considering who can handle this best is a good idea, too. “Please make a will and appoint someone as executor so that these things can be planned out, and the family can grieve the loss rather than worry about the loose ends,” Kowalski says.
5. The good times you’ll never forget
Even if you know your time with a loved one is limited, regardless of your relationship with them, be sure to find joy and reflect on positive memories. “If you know death is imminent, don’t just focus on the postmortem planning—please reflect on the good times,” Kowalski says. When did you have the most fun? When did you feel the most loved? How did they change your life?
“Let them know they won’t be forgotten,” Dr. Rodriguez adds. “Humans want to know they will be remembered.”
6. The questions you have
Ask what you’ve always wondered—especially anything that makes you feel vulnerable, Kowalski says. Some examples she gives is to ask whether they're proud of you and why, and whether they've accomplished everything they wanted in life.
7. Comfort and reassurance about your loss
You may never want to let this person go. While that’s valid and understandable, Dr. Rodriguez encourages you to think of them, too. “Give them permission to pass, especially if you know they might need that permission,” she says. “Let them know how what they have taught you will help you through this sad time and that you will ultimately be okay.”
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