My role as a family doctor gives me front row access to more family drama than I care to admit.

What to do with aging parents is one drama that most of us will face.

All the petty jealousy and unresolved sibling rivalries rear their ugly heads when mom takes ill and can no longer live alone.

I hear stuff like “since you where mom’s favorite, why don’t you take her in?” or “Linda makes more money than me so she should pick up the tab for dad’s care”.

End of life care provokes the most vitriol. One sibling wants everything done to keep mom alive while the other sibling wants to just keep mom comfortable with no heroic measures.

Motives are not always pure. A sibling who depends on mom’s social security checks might want to do everything humanly possible to keep the checks coming while another can’t wait to “pull the plug” to get her hands on her inheritance even faster.

Guess who is left out of the discussion? Mom.

The real question is what does mom or dad want at the end of their life? If you don’t know then go ahead and ask now while they have their marbles in place.

Don’t stop there, have them communicate their wishes to your siblings and other family members so when the time comes, everyone is clear on your parents’ wishes.

Have you had the end-of-life talk with your parents?

About the author

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Dr. Bola

Family physician. Works for the "man" by day, wife & mom 24/7.
Loves the work of translating "medicalese" to plain english.


  • We’re starting to have that discussion ourselves. In my parents’ generation it was unspoken and the end of life almost unrecognized, as if “don’t talk about it, it won’t happen”. Our generation is more able to discuss. You’re right, though. It needs to happen with our parents.

    • Carol, You will be surprised that our generation would rather not bring up the subject. It’s not an easy talk to have but it is necessary.

  • I don’t think my mom has had any marbles for years! LOL But that is very good advice, despite the fact that she’s still relatively young. Something could happen at any moment & we should be prepared.

  • It’s not something I want to talk about with my parents but you’re right, it has to be done. The thought of it just breaks my heart into a million pieces, I can just see the look on my dad’s face. I have really sweet parents, it’s hard to talk to them about stuff like this.

  • It’s very good that you are putting this topic out there, because you are right. It is calm times that communication should happen, not times of crisis, and the conversation needs to be revisited from time to time when situations change. I know how fortunate I am that my own family of origin can communicate about these things, but have seen how difficult it can be for those who get caught unprepared.

    • Well said Ida! End-of-life issues is best worked out in peaceful times. No need for that additional stress during a crisis.

  • I had to have this talk with my mom since she was ill, but it was good I did because when she passed away we knew all her wishes. She passed away at home but knew she had a DNR if she was in the hospital.

    • Christina,
      Your foresight saved you the needless fights and drama with other family members and you all got to respect mom’s wishes. Bravo!

  • As an only child I have no one to be mad or argue with about the care of my parents. I know that it is my sole responsibility.

    • Being an only child works both ways Danielle. While you have one to argue or fight with over the care of your parents, the downside is that you don’t have any one else to share that burden with.

  • This is such an important topic. I have seen this happen even with religious issues such as the funeral arrangements. I already talk to my daughters about things like that because I want to have a say on how I go or how I want to be celebrated, if at all.

  • We have not really had the talk with my parents but we all know what we would do. My family is close and would take care of each situation accordingly.

  • I think this is great advice but I’m just not ready to have a discussion about end of life with my parents.

  • Thank you so much for touching on a very important topic. Everyone should have a revocable trust and include instructions for end of life issues. My daughters are so thankful that we’ve discussed this and everything is in place. My ex-husband never took care of this, and when he passed our daughters had a nightmare to deal with due to not knowing his wishes and having to go through probate.

    By the way, we have many folks over 90 at my church, and we have discussed the importance of making decisions so that their family is aware of their wishes. It is amazing how people just don’t think to discuss end of life issues. We have many living alone, so have discussed safety issues and having a Knox box for emergency access as well as something like Life Alert or Splash to wear which gives them more peace of mind.

    Healthgist is doing a wonderful job of addressing important topics! Thank you so much!

    • You are most welcome Judi!

      You brought up something really important there; the perculiar needs of seniors living alone or far from loved ones. Umm, do I see a future Healthgist article there? I will get right on it. Thanks for the idea.

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