It’s time we had ‘the talk’

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March 23, 2016 | Viewpoints | Volume 20 Issue 7
Sherri Grosz,

It’s time for “the talk.” You know, the one we’ve been putting off because it’s uncomfortable. That end-of-life conversation. There is, after all, a 100 percent certainty of our death. The Psalms remind us of our frailty: “Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is” Psalm 39:4 (New International Version).

More than half of all deaths are sudden or unexpected, but even when expected, too many don’t make plans or discuss their wishes with family and friends. This can cause profound heartache for those left behind. I’ve heard the stories of families fighting over healthcare decisions and siblings who are estranged because of how the possessions were divided. There can also be confusion over who should make important decisions.

Here’s your primer to get the conversations started:

  • Wills: Do you have an up-to-date will? Are family members capable and willing to handle your estate, or should you hire a professional estate trustee service? Could they find the original copy of your will? Does your estate distribution still make sense? Have you included a charitable gift in your estate? Is there an up-to-date summary of what you own and what you owe? Have you created or updated your charitable giving plan with Mennonite Foundation of Canada (MFC)?
  • Incapacity documents for health: There are many reasons that we may not be able to make decisions about our healthcare or the things we own. Have you prepared legal documents permitting someone to act on your behalf, if needed? Have you notified the people you’ve named? Are they aware of your preferences for healthcare treatments? Have they met your primary care physician?
  • Incapacity documents for finances and property: Do they know which financial institutions you use? Have they met your financial planner, accountant and lawyer? Should you conduct annual reviews together? Have you discussed your wishes about chari-table gifts? Some provinces have rules about the amounts that can be donated if an incapacity document is in use. Is your family able to navigate tough conversations respectfully? Or should you involve an outsider to help?

A few years ago, John (a pseudonym) shared this: “My dad died when I was young, so it’s just been Mom, my sister and me. Mom had a serious health scare in her mid-60s, and we were keenly aware that we didn’t know what Mom wanted. She recovered, but after that she began conversations about aging, dying and death. Mom wove it into everyday conversations. She was careful not to overwhelm us, but she was quite clear about what she did and did not want.

“She also began to invite us to join appointments with lawyers, accountants and her physician. Mom lived independently until her late 80s and died just after her 90th birthday. My sister and I knew exactly what Mom wanted, what was important to her. It made a difficult time much easier for both of us.

“I know Mom did it because she felt strongly that parents should teach and guide their children. Even in my 60s, Mom was still able and willing to teach me about aging well, dying and death. I’ve continued the tradition and have begun to have conversations with my spouse and children. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s the least I can do for those whom I love.”

Set the example for your family and start the conversation today. MFC has resources available to help. Go to or contact the nearest office at 1-800-772-3257.

Sherri Grosz is a stewardship consultant at Mennonite Foundation of Canada serving generous people in Ontario and the eastern provinces. For more information on impulsive generosity, stewardship education, and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit

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I fully support Mennonite Foundation of Canada's efforts to encourage end-of-life planning. If I may, though, I invite consideration of potential legacies beyond the financial. As the saying goes, "you can't take it with you." That includes more than just money and our property. We can't take our bodies with us. Once we are dead we no longer have any need for our flesh and bones. In contrast, thousands of people across Canada are languishing on waiting lists in desperate need for donated organs that are being buried or cremated. As a final act of Christian stewardship that costs you nothing, please consider registering as an organ donor. You have within you the potential to make a profound difference in the lives of many in need.

Russell Sawatsky
London, ON
On a waiting list since September 2014

Thanks for bringing up the very important topic of organ donation. This is a topic that I have never seen discussed in the church. It is a "secular" topic and the secular/health community has done much more in helping those with failing health to realize and experience new potential and renewed health (due to organ donation) than the church. Thankfully, God is at work within the health community. As a church, we have focused on money, I agree we should bring attention to organ donation. Nurses involved in organ donation had sweatshirts made up with the logo: "Don't take your organs to heaven, heaven knows we need them here." God bless you.

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