Critical conversations every family should have

A kindly palliative care physician stopped by my husband’s hospital room to help him complete a Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form. “What most concerns you?” he asked my husband.

Gary pointed at me and said, “Leaving her.”


Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash


And so a week later at home, Hubby announced he was going to spend the day teaching me how to survive. How to do online banking. How to deposit a check using my cell phone camera. How to use my phone’s GPS system.

And then he pulled out a large pipe wrench for lessons on unclogging the bathroom sink. I gave him my best raised-eyebrow look, whereupon he put the pipe wrench away.


1 a4b-owrench

Hairdo by chemo


Gary and I also discussed some of the issues raised by the palliative care physician. Funny how we lived with the knowledge that his cancer was terminal, but we hadn’t talked much about death and dying.

Here are five things every family should discuss, preferably sooner than later:

1. Medical wishes

I knew Gary wanted no heroic efforts taken should he stop breathing, but it removed a few bricks from the backpack I was lugging around with me to have this in writing and on file. For most people, an Advance Directive is sufficient as it appoints a legal health care representative and provides instructions for future life-sustaining treatments. In Hubby’s case, the POLST form served as a summary of the patient’s wishes for end-of-life care.

2. Financial matters

Gary and I kept on top of our finances together, but when he retired, he took over the paying of bills and balancing of bank accounts. There were some tech tools he used that were new to me, and I needed to be brought up to speed. We utilized a small, portable fire-proof safe with a simple filing system to keep all important documents organized and in one location.

3. Tech stuff

I was married to a computer geek. We had four websites and Gary was the genius behind it all. He once mentioned locating a company that hosted our non-profit website for free. But I had no clue who that was, or who hosted the other three sites. Or from whom we had purchased our domain names. Trust me. These people all wanted to be paid. Annually.

Does your spouse have an interest or small business that you assume will die right along with him/her? Don’t assume anything; instead, learn what’s going on.

4. Last will and testament

The last update to our will was when our children were younger than our grandchildren are today. (Tells you how often we thought of death and dying.) Most assets are not distributed by will, i.e., life insurance and investments; these are passed on to the named beneficiaries. For owned property where no beneficiary is named, each state has its own set of laws that parcels out properties to nearest relatives. It would be wise to have a plan in place long before it’s needed.

5. Future plans

I once said to Gary that I would miss his wisdom. “Who would I ask for advice on major decisions?” I lamented. And so it was helpful that we discussed a few scenarios, after which Gary said, in his signature tongue-in-cheek style, that I would need to look for a rich husband.

Speaking of remarriage, this advice from the youngest granddaughter:



7-year-old: “Are you going to always live alone?”

Me: “Probably.”

7-year-old: “Are you never going to get married?”

Me: “Do you think I should?”

7-year-old: “Yeessss!

Me: “Why?”

7-year-old: “Because what if someone breaks into your house and you need someone to show you how to get out?”

Hadn’t thought of that.

Wanted: One capable and way-finding male who can guide me out of my own house during a break-in.


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  1. Hi Marlys,

    I like the way you talk about a difficult subject and manage to have humor right along with the serious. You and your husband managed to talk about a good deal before he died. Emilee and I were masterful at avoiding the death and dying issues right to the end. Twenty one months of time from diagnosis to the last days, and the last week she was still resistant on dealing with the advanced directive details. So your candor and your humor are appreciated, as is your list of what is important in a partner, as there is much that I can relate to, and it helps to spell these things out and see it in front of my eyes and not just inside my head. Makes me realize I can benefit from some work on doing that as well.

    January 31 was one year since she moved on to another frequency. Anniversaries are difficult. I have found some interesting signs that make me feel she is around, which is always comforting. Peace to you in your continued adventure.


    • Thank you for your kind words, Neal. I suspect a good many people are “masterful at avoiding the death and dying issues right to the end.” Well said.

  2. Nice post.

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