Having “the talk” is tough. Trust us, we know. But the thing is, if you wait for a crisis to discuss your health, finances and future wishes, it’s even harder. Here’s the health conversations to have with your peeps ASAP in the calm light of (an ordinary) day.
1. Family medical history
Knowing your history of disease (on both sides) is one of the most effective ways to manage your health. Having this information on hand can help your loved ones, like your kids, do the same. Many medical conditions, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, often have a genetic component. Understanding your risk means that you can pursue genetic testing, change your lifestyle or simply be more proactive about relevant screening tests, such as mammograms. You may be amazed at what you can find out by simply asking some simple questions at your next family reunion.
2. Will and estate
“Whether you’re young, married or have children, if you have assets of any value, you should have a will,” says Karon C. Bales, a lawyer and managing partner at Bales Beall LLP in Toronto, “and then it’s a good idea to let somebody know about it.” Have a family meeting and tell your family members where the original is and who will be the executor, says Linda Hochstetler, a registered social worker and consultant based in Toronto. The more you can own your life and your decisions, the better, says Hochstetler.
3. Organ donation
More than 4,500 people are waiting for life-saving organ donations in Canada. Register online with your provincial or territorial body to become an organ donor, and make your wishes known to your family members. Check out The Organ Project for info on how to register in your area.
4. Mental health
Every year, one in five Canadians will experience a mental health concern, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Mental health and addiction can have genetic components, which is one reason to discuss this once-taboo topic. Another reason is so that you and your loved ones can receive support, says Hochstetler. (Find out how Canadians really feel about their mental health.)
5. Advance care plan
Long before you can even imagine dying, you should take care of some practical things, such as setting out an advance care plan to ensure that you get the care you want if you are unable to communicate, says Hochstetler. This plan should cover issues like palliative care, health interventions and who will manage those decisions. “Get the practical stuff done as soon as possible and you can edit it as you go,” says Hochstetler. Most importantly, once you’ve made your plan, talk to your loved ones about what it contains so that they can help you carry it out. Check out Advance Care Planning to get started on your plan.
Money can be a stressful topic – one survey showed that 30 percent of Canadians cited financial stress as a bigger worry than their overall health. (Quick side note: Here’s how to properly use mediation to manage stress.) But it’s a relevant convo to have. Whether the conversation is with your children, your parents or your extended family, if there’s a goal you want to accomplish (such as dividing up family assets), it’s probably time to break out of your comfort zone.
7. Personal documents
From your computer password to your bank documents, you should share the location of this information with a loved one so that they know where to find it if they ever need it.
8. Power of attorney
A power of attorney is a legal document that gives someone the authority to make decisions on your behalf. You need to assign an attorney for your personal care (health and lifestyle) and your property (finances). You need to assign someone (or ideally two different people) to manage these aspects of your life if you become incapable, and it’s key that you inform your family about who that person is and why. “It’s very important to talk about what your wishes are with the person who will be making those decisions when you can’t,” says Bales. “It’s much better than when Mom ends up in the hospital and no one knows who the power of attorney is or who is making decisions.”
9. Funeral wishes
While it might seem morbid, if your future funeral details are important to you, share those wishes, recommends Hochstetler. Let your loved ones know if you prefer a burial over a cremation or a celebration of life instead of a funeral. Decide whether you want it to be public or private and cheap or extravagant, and make your values known, says Hochstetler.
Forgiving someone for a past grievance or even discussing it can lift a real burden, says Hochstetler. She has seen clients debate whether or not to open up a conversation with a family member and then the person dies before the client decides whether to reach out. “They always beat themselves up with guilt, saying ‘I wish I had,’ and then it’s too late,” says Hochstetler. “If you can come to peace and say that nothing, not even death, will change your mind that you want to make contact with this person, then you won’t have regrets,” she says.
Next, find out how journaling can better your health.