Do you know what hospital care/funeral arrangements your parents want?

I have entered a new phase in life where many of my peers are caring for sick parents or planning funerals for parents who have died.

I currently have at least six friends caring for parents with cancer or other terrible diseases. I have one with a parent in the ICU dealing with cancer but also a stroke. He just found out he had cancer only a few weeks before the stroke.

Another friend just spent the week very thoughtfully planning her mother’s funeral. The care that she took creating a wonderful celebration of her mother’s life while so sad is just amazing too me. I don’t want to have to make those kinds of decisions after I’ve just lost a parent.

I don’t want to be a downer to my parents who are currently pretty darn healthy, but I don’t want to be put in a position to guess what they want.

I have called them several times over the last two weeks to request that they write down some plans. My brother and I need to know what they want done at a hospital. Do they want the ventilator or feeding tube? How much intervention do they want? (I know they should have a health care proxy and a living will to legally state what care they want but I don’t think they do.)

The other think I want is for them to write out is how they want their funerals. What songs or readings do they want during the service? Do they want the viewing and service at their church here in Atlanta but be buried in Savannah? Do I have to ship their bodies or can I cremate them? Who do they want to be buried by in Savannah? (There are lots of Walsh options and you don’t want to stick them forever in the wrong place.)

My dad says he doesn’t care about all the stuff but I know my mother does. (I’ll pay for it later if it’s done wrong. I have an image of me passing through the pearly gates, not being welcomed but criticized: “You played that song at my funeral.”)

It’s hard to press them from 2,000 miles away. If I were there, I would make them a meal and pull out a legal pad and make them figure things out. That’s tough to do over the phone.

Are you currently caring for an ill parent? Do they have a living will or health care proxy? Have they sat down with you and told her want they want? Do you think parents should help plan their funerals before they get sick or is that just depressing?

33 comments Add your comment


August 27th, 2013
6:22 am

Yes I know my parents plans/wishes and they know mine. They both want to be cremated, as do I. They want to be buried, and there are two plots out in Utah, where they grew up, and their parents are buried.

Me, no funeral! I don’t want a church service, nor do I want a bunch of sad faces. I want you to celebrate my life, don’t mourn my passing. Cremate me, and scatter me over the Rockies or down in St. Simons. But do not out me in the ground. I want to fly and be free.

I think it’s extremely important to know your family’s wishes, especially our aging parents!

mother of 2

August 27th, 2013
6:43 am

Great article. My parents are very healthy, as are my in laws. I think I will have a conversation with them now, when we don’t have the stress of illness, to figure out what everyone wants.


August 27th, 2013
6:57 am

This is a very important topic. Most people don’t plan for the event that they are sick for a long time or unable to make medical decisions for themselves. My mother had a stroke two years ago and though you can tell by looking at her, it was a wake-up call. Now, both she and my father have plans for what to do when it comes to medical care. I also know their wishes on funeral. One wants cremation, and the other wants a funeral. No one WANTS to talk about the bad stuff, but putting your head in the sand and then doing a mad scramble later is a whole lot harder than having a reasonable conversation now. Oh and don’t forget about situations when there are multiple strong willed or in some cases down right dumb siblings involved with the decision making. Not just your parents sibling, but your siblings as will. People get really crazy when it comes to funeral and medical decisions. This makes having this information is even more critical.


August 27th, 2013
7:06 am

Yes, My Dad also has cancer and these details have recently been taken care of.

I have written down songs, in the front of my Bible, that I want to have sung at my funeral. My husband and I need to nail down where we will be buried, as there is no “home”. We do not have plots but I am thinking we will stay here in GA as this is where our kids will most likely be. We have lived all over the place and so did our parents.

I am not worried about being in the ground, as that is the body and not the soul. or spirit. This is silly but if I had to cut my finger off, it would not bother me to put it in the ground as my finger is not ME. To me, your body is a temporary house. Second Corinthians 5:8 “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” This is because of my faith and certainly not because I am a good person nor have earned a ticket to heaven.


August 27th, 2013
7:37 am

Dad has been ill/various surgeries for the last several years. Mom carries the brunt of the care. It has had us look at some of what they want. They want to be creamated. Since I live near them, they are having me be executor of the will. Mom said she figured I would be reasonable and fair. Since she has always favored my brother I was surprised but she is right I would do my best. I need to ask them about any readings, I had not thought too. We would have a service at the church we attend. They literally helped build it with hammers in the 60’s. We have been on/off in attendance over the years but it what they consider their church home/family. (Same one my kids and I attend now).

Music wise it would be all over the board I am sure. Mom loves praise and the gospel hymns from KY. Dad loves music. My two children know that for sure I want them to sing “I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart, I will enter His court with praise” because I want folks to remember that is my goal.

A friend of ours did a beautiful Power Point slide show that ran before and after the service. Just tons of photos of her husband through out his life. Many with those of us at the memorial in them. The guy loved God, family, country and those of us there were his extended family. Often the photos had us laughing and remembering. My Mom would like that for sure. She wants one for my Dad too but no idea if he wants it.

TWG, it is a hard conversation. Good luck with it.

“After all, to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure” — Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore (1881 – 1997)

Mid Ga Retiree

August 27th, 2013
7:38 am

Add one other question to this topic. Are there funds available to carry out the last wishes? It is becoming more and more common for people not to be able to afford to carry out the last wishes of their parents. Whatever the wishes, those who carry them out have to pay for them.


August 27th, 2013
7:40 am

@FCM…I too have seen the pictures and they really are a celebration of the life people had! A great way to remember the person.


August 27th, 2013
7:47 am

@ Mid Ga Retiree You are right! When my parents were discussing this topic with their parents my Mom’s parents kept saying well what do you want. Dad said tell them we want them to leave enough money to pay the expenses. They get to where it breaks even great. If something is left over they can leave it for their church. However none of us want to be saddled with the debt. He told his mother the same thing.


August 27th, 2013
8:00 am

My parents are getting older – I keep urging them to buy burial plots because I have no idea where they want to be buried. I know mom doesn’t want an open casket and she’s mentioned cremation lately. I just wish they’d make some decision and write it all down.

My husband and I have detailed plans, wills, healthcare proxies, etc. If I die before my parents, they are going to be appalled but that’s their problem (as our religious beliefs differ greatly).

I really think this is an important topic that doesn’t get enough attention. I think loving parents would have some sort of plan for their kids to follow – it makes the grieving process easier.


August 27th, 2013
8:01 am

I have already dealt with this as my Mom passed 23 yrs ago and I (#9 of 10 kids) handled all of the details for her funeral..It wasn’t that big of a deal. We have a family plot at the cemetary and I had known for years what she wanted..We had a few songs that were played for her and a grave side service.. Basically had the same thing for my Dad a few years later, with the exception of his being military..

Like Mayhem, for me I don’t want any sad songs or big church service..I want a celebration of my life..I also want to be cremated and have my ashes spread somewhere..Maybe over a shoe store?My husband also wants to be cremated and have his ashes dropped over the ski slopes in CO..No big hoopla..


August 27th, 2013
8:13 am

It is absolutely essential that everyone makes their wants and wishes known and to make those wants and wishes legal. If you do not have a living will, health care directive or pre-made plans and have it legally mandated in writing by an attorney familiar with the laws in the state you or your loved ones reside in, you cannot make any decisions. The state can and will step in depending on the circumstances. I have made all my plans and given a copy of my legal documents to my children. I have my mother’s plans and I know what my kids want and have those in legal papers. This is critical for everyone.


August 27th, 2013
8:42 am

This is something everyone needs to discuss and make known to not just their spouse and kids, but siblings and parents as well. Unfortunately, healthy people die every day in accidents, murders or sudden illness such as heart attack or stroke. Death is hard enough to deal for a family to deal with so no one should want their loved ones to have to make such tough decisions while grieving. My parents were both sick for many years and although we knew their final wishes, neither of them had enough insurance to cover their hospital bills and funeral expenses.

My mother in law talked to me a few months ago and told me her wishes and where to find everything in writing, including bank account information, insurance policies, passwords and her a copy of her will. She didn’t show it to me, but she told me where to find her obituary which has everything written out except the dates. My sister in law knows where to find this information as well be she expects that she will be strong enough to remember and execute things when the time comes. MIL also told her siblings and her children that she has given me access to this information so that there (hopefully) won’t be any fighting or hurt feelings. She explained that she chose me because we are close enough that she knows she can trust me to carry out her wishes and she believes that I am strong enough to handle it since I’ve gone through it with both of my parents. (My father in law died when they were kids).

grammar police

August 27th, 2013
8:46 am

i am mourning the apparent passing of theresa’s editors. It is almost two sad too bare.

Young Lady

August 27th, 2013
9:10 am

Yes you should plan as much of what you can while your parents are healthy. Not all illnesses leave you convinentially incapacitated. Alzheimer’s is what we’re struggling with while dealing with my aunt. She doesn’t have a living will, power of attorney, or proxy for herself. And that makes it difficult to deal with doctors, service providers, etc. We’re not children and people can choose to brush us off if they wish.

It was a wake up call for my parents to make sure they had their health care proxy in place. As for the funeral they want to be cremated. A service is for the living according to them so they basically are going to leave the details of that to my sister and I. I have no issue with that.

Young Lady

August 27th, 2013
9:11 am

We’re not /her/ children is what I meant.

usually lurking

August 27th, 2013
9:13 am

Not only what interventions, but under what circumstances. If the feeding tube and vent help you recover from blunt force trauma of an auto accident where there is no TBI, then probably yes. If the tubes come out and then have to go back in, how many times do you try?


August 27th, 2013
9:29 am

My mother & grandmother both had everything handled right down to their casket. My brother on the other hand did not and that put a huge amount of stress on the remaining family. I haven’t talked to my sister in nearly 7 years (since his funeral) because she seemed to lose all dignity during the service nor is a lot of the family. It’s sad when it comes down to losing not 1 but 2 siblings so having a plan in place will save a lot of grief for all.


August 27th, 2013
9:32 am

Also- a list of user names and passwords and security questions for any websites used- bank accounts, financial accounts, email, facebook.


August 27th, 2013
10:24 am

I was barely 18 when my dad died and just short of 25 when my mom died, but since both of my parents were somewhat older than the norm when I was born and because they’d already discussed it, we had something of an ongoing discussion here and there about what they wanted WELL before I actually needed to know that information,

Neither of my parents wanted traditional burials, but instead wanted their bodies donated to science (at Emory med school), so with my dad they got all of that stuff arranged and then when it came time, the school got the body, then they cremated it and send us the urn. My dad had wanted his ashes scattered on St. Simon’s Island, and specifically at Fort Frederica, so that’s what we did.

My mom wanted pretty much the same thing, so when it came time with her, I tried to have the body donated to Emory, but she hadn’t gotten signed up (oops!) but there was another way where tissues and fluids could be harvested for science so that’s what we did. She hadn’t specified she be scattered at any specific location, but she also wanted to be scattered at St. Simon’s Island. So I took it upon myself to find the same spot at Fort Frederica where we’d scattered my dad’s ashes and did it there with hers. I think she would have loved that little touch. Again, she hadn’t been specific about WHERE on the island, just that it be there. So I made that decision on my own.

And yes, knowing account information, where to find records, where to find all the vital information is crucial. This was all well before the Internet became anywhere close to what it is today, but knowing those things is important. I’d long since known where to find all that vital info for my parents … again, part of the ongoing conversations we had. Was it uncomfortable? Yes, very, but I’m glad I knew what to do … and that in my mom’s case, another family member was nearby who had the idea of donating to the tissue bank when the Emory idea fell through, was nearby and could help arrange for that to be done.


August 27th, 2013
10:36 am

Yes, we do know what my wife’s parents want and my wife is executrix of their estate and already has durable Power of Attorney – Her parents are nearing 90. Her mom sent us $$$ to place into a separate account for the express use of paying for their cremation and last wishes. We know exactly how they want hospital visits handled and have copies of their Living Wills and their DNR orders.
This is all so well thought and planned out that it’s amazing. My parents, on the other hand, while just a few years younger, have made no official plans of which I am aware and, altough I’m “supposed” to be executor of the estate, will have no legal backing in performing these duties. I’m in the exact same spot as TWG in this regard. No will, no POA, no DNR, notta… Irritates me to no end.


August 27th, 2013
11:43 am


August 27th, 2013
12:20 pm

Before my grandmother died in 1996, she had been ill for several weeks, and we were taking turns staying with her so that she could stay at home and be cared for as she deserved. I was on the rotation, as was my mother and uncle. Before my last rotation, my mother and uncle said, “Hey, DB, ask your grandmother what she wants at her funeral.” “Why ME!? Why don’t YOU ask her?” My mother admitted that she just couldn’t bring herself to have that conversation, and my uncle avoided it assiduously. So, one night, after we watched “Jeopardy”, I pulled out a legal pad, and told my grandmother, “Well, my mom and my uncle are big chickens — they couldn’t bring themselves to ask, so I guess it’s up to me: Let’s talk about your funeral.” My grandmother started laughing so hard she was crying, and then admitted that she had been wanting to talk about it, but it was obvious that my mother was uncomfortable with the idea, telling her, “Oh, we don’t need to talk about that now — you’ll be fine!” We had a really wonderful two hours talking about funeral homes, her husband (who had been dead for 50 years), the minister, the church, music, even the funeral home she preferred. It was a great talk, to hear her own thoughts about what she wanted and why (”I like ___ Funeral Home because they send the family a big platter of fried chicken and fixin’s”, and “__ Funeral Home puts on lipstick that is too pink!!!”) why certain hymns were her favorites, etc.

I had ten pages of notes.

She died a week later.

My in-laws took the initiative and bought a cremation pre-paid package (they aren’t available anymore) about 20 years ago. The funeral director was somewhat chagrined that his profit margin on my FIL’s funeral was so small, but hey, I’m sure he made it up on someone else’s. :-)

Side note that I discovered on my dad’s funeral: Everything is negotiable, even the casket. I was appalled at the price of the casket that my mother chose, and got online and did some poking around. I found the exact same casket for about 1/3 of the price that the funeral home quoted. So I called the funeral home, told them what I had found, and asked them if they were willing to match the price, or if I should buy it from this on-line place. They matched it with the shipping costs. Fair enough. :-) My father the car salesman would have been proud :-)

Not only our parents, but WE have living wills, a will, etc. It’s one of the kindest things you can do for your loved ones, not to have them guess at what your wishes are. Just do it, tell ‘em where to find ‘em when they need ‘em and then forget ‘em. (Except don’t forget to update your wills when yours kids are no longer minors.)


August 27th, 2013
12:40 pm

I think it is also important that you let your parents and/or siblings your wishes in case something were to happen you and your spouse at the same time (car accident, for example). I actually need to do that myself. My siblings have a good relationship with my husband but don’t really know my in laws that well but for the sake of my son, I would want them to come together if something were to happen.


August 27th, 2013
12:42 pm

Funerals are for the living and while it is a nice gesture to honor the memory of the deceased they will be unable to participate in the proceedings. If a parent or loved one dies without expressing their preferences then one should plan the arrangements as best they can with no regrets or qualms whatsoever. It is great to take the initiative to sit down with an elderly or terminally ill relative to secure these preferences but it is ultimately their responsibility to make such details known. If they do not then it just might not be as important to them as you think it is.


August 27th, 2013
4:16 pm

My parents are dead, so the pressure on this has passed to my kids. I have been telling them for years what I want–and they have forbidden me from telling anyone outside the family what I want! But I do anyway! Let’s just say in addition to specific songs I’d like my son and friends to sing, if they outlive me, I would like there to be kazoos, a large trash can, and helium and if it is in the summer, sprinklers. Fill in the blanks.


August 27th, 2013
4:41 pm

I am 63 years old and in quite good health, but I don’t want to leave this for someone else to worry about or pay for. I have one child, a son, but I have made my CPA and my sister-in-law co-executors of my estate so that my accountant can handle the financial issues and my sister-in-law can handle the family ones, and my son won’t have to make hard decisions in the midst of his grief. I have the Will, the Health Care POA and the Advanced Care Directive. I have given a list of important financial information, contact names, account numbers and passwords, as well as keys to my house, car and safe deposit box, to my CPA. I have written my obituary and noted the two newspapers where it should be published. I have made a list of people to notify when I die, and how to contact them. I am pre-paying for my cremation and a spot at the cemetery for a bench to be placed, since I won’t be buried. No funeral; just a viewing at the funeral home for my son and my siblings. My cremains will be mixed with those of my deceased pets and scattered at the pet cemetery. I have written out a brief service to be performed at the cemetery, and have prepared CD’s of the music I want played. Have I forgotten anything? I don’t think so. I see this as the kindest gift I can leave for my family, and I have complete peace of mind that I’ll go out exactly the way I want to.


August 27th, 2013
5:04 pm

Wills, Durable Power of Attorney, Advanced Healthcare Directives, and funeral arrangements should all be addressed when someone becomes an adult, and most definitely when that adult owns stuff. It may be uncomfortable but THAT IS WHAT ADULTS DO – they deal with the tough issues in a mature manner.

When you don’t take care of this legal housekeeping, you are leaving the job to others, others who may be very stressed because they are taking care of your procrastinating, immature self or grief stricken because they are having to make the decisions because you are dead.

Now I will get off of my soapbox.


August 27th, 2013
5:15 pm

Almost four years ago, I began taking care of my mother as the medical profession spent 9 months figuring out what was wrong with her. After about four months, I had an uneasy feeling that the situation was not going to end well so I contacted an attorney friend and we prepared those three big documents. By this time, Mom’s mind wasn’t working as it had (she was only 72) and she couldn’t give me much input on funeral matters such as scripture readings and songs but she said she had faith that whatever I decided would be great (I’m a church musician).
Things went on for another 10 months before she died of brain cancer. This cancer, like dementia, robs its victims of their memories so there were no long talks, recorded or not, about her life and her parents’ lives.

The point of this post is to say “Don’t assume there will be time for all these things later, whenever later is. If you want that family history, get it now. Get those documents completed now. You don’t know when you will need them. Live each day as if it was your last or theirs.”


August 27th, 2013
5:23 pm

@TWG –
1. find a blank copy of an Advanced Healthcare Directive and Durable Power of Attorney for the state your parents live in
2. mail, email, or hand deliver the blank copies to them
3. have them read, ponder, and discuss their choices, and then fill out the forms.
4. have your parents take it to an attorney to be typed up all nice and neat.
5. they can sign it and have it notarized. Then have copies made and distributed to any and all concerned parties.

Use this process to segue into a discussion of funeral arrangements.


August 27th, 2013
5:28 pm

My MIL has a prepaid plan through the retirement home/nursing home she is at. She wouldn’t share that fact or any of her wishes with us. Now she is on the Alzheimer’s floor and we had to go through her papers during the move from assisted living. We were quite shocked to find that the majority of her final expenses were already paid for and her funeral already planned. Such a relief, since only 2 of the 5 children could afford to foot the bill otherwise and none of them would ever agree on the “right songs” or the “right casket”. But we wish she had share the info with us, instead of finding out like we did.


August 28th, 2013
10:03 am

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south georgia mom

August 29th, 2013
9:25 am

My grandparents had planned and pre-paid for everything. It was a big help to my mom and her sisters.
I manage my father’s care. I have the POA and documents. Got them drawn up before he went into the nursing home.


August 31st, 2013
8:32 pm

This is an important topic. My mom passed away in July. My dad passed in 2011. They had all of their paperwork in order, living will, etc. i have two brothers who are attornyeys and they encouraged my parents to put their things in order years ago. My mother updated her beneficiaries after my dad died. She split everything evenly among the ten of us, and wanted to be sure she left something for my sister-in-law. She and my brother divorced after almost 30 years of marriage. She remained very much a part of our family, and just because my brother had divorced her did not mean the rest of us had. My sister-in-law was very touched.
My mother ran the show for my dad, regarding the funeral arrangements, and we followed the same for her. The church had a list of approved music. My mother always liked,”Let There Be Peace on Earth,” and, “Amazing “Grace.” My sister insisted on “Ave Maria,” which I felt was a no-brainier. I picked, “”Prayer of St. Francis.” We all like ,”On Eagles Wings,” but that makes another sister-in-law very sad as it was sung at her 14 y/o daughter’s funeral. My parents have 20 living grandchildren (two predeceased), and ten great grandchildren, and we tried to have as many as possible involved in both of their services, of those who wanted to be – readings and presentation of the gifts, etc . It was a really nice mass, very fitting for my mom. My dad was a police officer for 30 years and it was fitting that the NYPD served as pall bearers. My 5 brothers and two sons-in-law were pall bearers for my mom.

My father-in-law passed in 1996, unexpectedly. My mother-in-law was very much in charge then, and has all of her instructions in writing, and advised us where she has everything. She gave my husband and one of his sister’s the lawyer’s card. I think she did this as this responsibility fell n her when her parents died.

Losing your parents is part of life, however, there are no words to define the deep sense of loss. It was hard when my dad died, and losing my mother is so much harder. Take every opportunity you can to visit. You will not regret it.