When There May Not be Tomorrow: 3 Reasons to Ask the Tough Questions

When There May Not be Tomorrow: 3 Reasons to Ask the Tough Questions

At the age of forty-four, I am in the unique position of still having a living grandparent.  My father’s mother is nearly ninety-eight years old and aside from the expected decline of her memory, she is healthy for her age.

She does suffer from progressive dementia which prevents her from remembering what I told her five minutes before, but fortunately has not touched her memory of the past.  This is the most precious gift that until very recently I have left unopened as she is a very private woman and I have not wanted to offend or upset her.

I am responsible for all decisions pertaining to her health and wellness.  My father was her only child and he unfortunately died many years ago.  I am his only child and therefore the beneficiary of all that is “Granny”.

Granny is not the type of lady who likes to have heart to heart conversations, at least not with me.  Our travel talk usually consists of her asking me where I am taking her or pointing out the weird designs nowadays of headlights on cars.  This is not due to her progressing dementia.  She has never liked to talk about anything that might evoke emotion.  She houses one of the strongest wills I have seen in one of the smallest of frames.  She is less than five feet tall and the scale does not even reach one hundred when she steps upon it.

A few weeks ago I was visiting and she was feeling down.  She said she does not know why she is still here and that she just wishes she would die.  Of course those sentiments made me sad, but with her awareness of how her mind is deteriorating along with the fact most of her relatives and friends are gone, I understand why she would have such thoughts.

I thought this to be the perfect time to review her salvation.  I asked her if she knew where she is going when she dies.  I was thrown off guard by her reply.  She stated, “Yes, I want to be cremated.”  I of course posed the question with the intent of her assuring me she knew she was going to heaven.  She threw me a curve-ball I never expected.  I always assumed she was being buried with my grandfather.

This past week I brought up the topic again.  She told me she guessed she should be buried with my grandfather since she spent most of her adult life with him.  We discussed it further and I gave her other options.  I assured her I would support whatever she chooses.  She has chosen burial with my grandfather.

Is this an easy conversation to have with an almost ninety-eight year old woman, or anyone for that matter?  Of course not!  But what are the benefits of having this conversation?

  • Empowerment – Granny has most certainly felt invisible for the last twenty years.  I am the one who drives her to her destinations.  I am the person the doctors talk to instead of her.  I am sure such a strong-minded woman has felt she has been left without a voice.  I listened to her thoughts about why she wanted to be cremated, gave her options and helped her make this decision on her own.
  • Access – This is a true example of “it is never too late”.  There are many things I have wanted to discuss with my grandmother for years but her tough exterior has resulted in many an argument between us.  As a result, I have tiptoed my way around discussion topics as a safety mechanism.  Success with one difficult conversation has given me confidence to attempt others.
  • No Last Minute Decisions – I would not want to be second guessing myself at the same time I am grieving over my grandmother’s death. Hearing her tell me what she wants relieves a lot of pressure from this sole decision maker. It has taken a weight off of my shoulders and given me peace of mind beyond belief.

It goes without saying that we all want the best for our families.  What I did with Granny did not involve any heroic measures.  All I did was explore a topic she was curious about. I was willing to “go there” and the payoff has been tremendous.

Who popped into your mind as you read this?  I am certain many of you have avoided uncomfortable conversations for years.  Believe me, I am all for remaining in my comfort zone.  I have spent nearly forty years not rocking the boat.  What I have discovered is she just wants to be heard.

Who have you been avoiding difficult conversations with?

Is there a time you seized the moment and felt a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction?

 

Lori

Lori

About Lori

I was born in Long Beach, raised in Cypress and ventured to South Orange County in 1999. I'm a member of Saddleback Church and through volunteering in the Memorial Ministry I was introduced to Neil O'Connor. Neil decided to bring me on board even despite my endless badgering at our first meeting. I am the Director of Care Coordination and also fill the roles of Memorial Marker Design Specialist, Weekend Receptionist and Blog Team Member. Never did I expect a mortuary would be the place I would find my dream job. I feel extremely blessed by the relationships I have formed at O'Connor with the team and the families we are privileged to serve. I now live in Aliso Viejo with my beloved pups Max and Bella. Free time, though often hard to come by, is mostly spent with friends. The Bible verse I live by - I can do everything through him who gives me strength Philippians 4:13
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  • Lori –
    Great blog post! This is an important conversation for everyone to have. We all know this is not a comfortable subject, we have to learn to get uncomfortable with life and death. The benefits of talking about our final plans out weighs working in crisis. Pre planning our funerals & cremation services is completely logical, not much to debate. It will spare you family from crisis and making poor decision, you can save money, and you will have a peace of mind that your family does not have to struggle with these very important decisions.

    This conversation is very real for me too. My parents for years did not want to make their plans because they believed we knew what they wanted to do. Very ironic coming from parents who grew up and worked in our profession.

    I am proud of you that you had the courage to have the conversation with your grandmother. My question for you is have you pre planned yet?

    • Lori Bristol

      Wow!! Great question Neil, and actually “No”! I have been so focused on my family members that I have not considered planning for myself yet. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Terri Janovick

    Thank you Lori! My mother passed 2 yrs ago May 31st, and I so remember our conversation. The relief of knowing we were doing the right thing ! To be second guessing myself, at that stressful & sad time, was elimanated. I have advised my children of my wishes, just to ease the conversation. As their mother, I will discuss this matter with them since we all know to well, death happens at unexpected times ~ Thank you Lori

    • Patricia Kolstad

      Hi Terri:
      Thank you for the depth of your reasoning. You are so right, we don’t know the time or place. Being prepared and letting family know is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Thank you for sharing this.
      Pat Kolstad

    • Lori Bristol

      Good for you Terri for being willing to have the uncomfortable conversation with your Mom and kids.
      You give them the gift of peace that you had by talking to your mom in advance.
      Hope you are well and miss you!!
      Love,
      Lori

  • Melody Hiller

    This was an awesome blog. We have a very unique thing in common as my Grandma Edna turned 99 on Monday. She also has progressive dementia and except for the fact she can’t hear very well, she is very healthy. Her face lights up every time I visit and she has such a joy for living. She is a very strong Christian woman and knows exactly where she is going (she tells us every day when she sings Jesus Loves Me) LOL. I will definitely use this information when I see her next. (I visit a few times per week).

    • Lori Bristol

      Your Grandma’s faith is evident by the love that shines through her and all of your family. How is it that we have grandmothers that are in great shape in their late 90’s, yet we’re a wreck now?!?!? We didn’t get the genes I guess. 🙂
      I definitely encourage you and your family to “go there”.
      Love,
      Lori

  • Your relationship with your grandmother is such a special thing, Lori. I love that you highlighted it here with all of it’s preciousness and it’s challenges showing through. Your post is really inspiring in an area where people don’t get a lot of help, advice or motivation to ask the tough questions. I’m glad this post is out there, well done!

    • Lori Bristol

      Thank you Molly! I appreciate your support and encouragement. I am so grateful to have you as my sounding bored. Sorry about all of the nagging. xoxoxo

      • Lori Bristol

        Wow! I just realized that the lady who nagged you about typos all day called you a sounding “bored” instead of “board”. Don’t kick me off the team!!!!!

  • Judy

    What a great blog Lori! Thank you for letting us into your world with Grandma. . I have heard so many stories about her and think how amazing it must be to have lived her life. It makes me think of my own parents and how I will probably need to have that conversation with them someday soon so that I can have the same confidence about decisions made for them in the upcoming years. Thank you and I look forward to other blogs from you!

    • Lori Bristol

      Judy,

      You have been hearing Granny stories for longer than anyone except my mom and family!
      You have been there since I was four years old. That’s a long time!!
      I definitely encourage you and your sisters to have this conversation. I love all of you and when the time comes I would rather see you putting your plan into action instead of having to come up with one at the last minute.
      Thank you for following the blog and I will make every effort to make sure my future blogs do not disappoint. 🙂

      Love you!
      Lori

  • Derek Kemp

    Lori,
    Very nicely written! Though my parents are traveling all over the world and in seemingly good health for their age, I guess this is a talk that I will need to have with them in the near future. I am one of the executors of their estate, and I have heard mention several times in peripheral conversations of what they would want. I do not know what if any definitive decision has been made by either. I am glad for you though, that you have at least addressed one of many important decisions that lie ahead.
    I’m sure for you, looking back 20 some odd years ago, you can now see part of what Gods plan was for your life. Though not usually evident to us at the time of trial, GOD does have a “PURPOSE” for our lives. Your dealings with your father’s death, supporting your grandmother for so many years, and volunteering in Saddleback Churches Memorial Ministry all lead you to your current job, “Your Purpose”.
    Very happy for you,
    Derek

    • Lori Bristol

      Derek,

      Don’t forget another one of God’s plans, to reconnect you, me and Kristin through Saddleback Church!
      I am so happy to be back in touch with both of you. Our face to face interaction needs some work, but we will make it happen very soon.
      I remember very well us sitting at a table kicking around business ideas before O’Connor Mortuary became a full-time job for me.
      Once you have that conversation, don’t forget to call us to set up that pre-need Mr. DPA. (my boss is reading this)
      Thank you again for your kind words and tell Kristin I want to see you guys!!
      Love,
      Lori

  • Connie

    I am very proud of the” Little Girl” I raised to be a” Beautiful Lady” who really knows how to put words together so very beautiful. You did a very nice job to open up a lot of peoples eyes on what should be done far in advance . I have always been one , “Dont want to talk about that now” but it really is the very best thing to do for your loved ones. Love Mom

    • Lori Bristol

      Thank you Mom! You should be proud of yourself for being a wonderful single parent for all of those years.
      As you know, I love to write and I am so happy to have an outlet. As far as putting words together well, I get a LOT of help from Molly.
      Even though I have a good idea of what you would like, we really do need to “go there” and get it all down on paper. I don’t even like to think about that though. 🙁

      Love you!!!
      Lori

  • Shayna Mallik

    Lori,
    Wow what an amazing blog! Your courage to have that talk is inspiring. You have a special bond and relationship with your grandmother that you will carry forever. You and your grandma are lucky to have one another. You are an amazing, kind person, who puts her heart and soul into all that you do. Thank you for sharing your story and I know you have inspired everyone with this blog.

    Love you!!!
    Shayna Mallik (the baby)

    • Lori Bristol

      Shayna,

      Thank you so much for your very kind words! You have had to sit through a few Grandma stories yourself you poor thing.
      I especially thank you for calling me kind when you see me during some of my most stressed out times, like Wednesday afternoons maybe? Lol!!
      You are a real sweetheart and I appreciate your attitude. You are always willing to help no matter what the task may be. Keep that great attitude! It will get you far in life.

      Love you!!
      Lori

  • Anne Collins

    Good job, Lori. I know from the granny stories I have heard that she has a good advocate in you, no matter what the subject. Working here, we sure know how important it is to know what you plan to do and how you plan to do it. Saves pain, misery and yes, money, by planning (and funding) ahead. I know that part for sure since I do the accounting. I love working with you. You add such joy to our day!

    • Lori Bristol

      Thank you so much Anne! I love working with you as well. Joy has not always come so easily to me.
      I think it is the people who surround me each day along with God’s love in my heart that makes it radiate so easily now.
      Love you!
      Lori

  • Kari Leslie

    Lori, (aka Ethel)
    I love this picture of Granny….
    I hope that you cherish every day that you have left with this spirited sage woman!! I miss my Nana every day of my life, and seeing this photo just touches my heart! Thank you for your words of wisdom, and bless you for caring for your father’s precious mother.
    Love you my friend!!
    Kari (aka Lucy)

    • Lori Bristol

      Kari (Lucy)
      Clearly you just like seeing me cry! In the short time we have worked together you have already seen me through some frustrations with Granny. Relationships do not always come easily. Some are crucial to be worked on and time is of the essence! My relationship with my mom’s mom “Gramma” was more like yours with your Nana. My Gramma died in 1997 and I still think of her nearly every day and can tear up in an instant over a memory.
      I knew you and I would be friends from the instant we met at your mom’s. Little did I know that the next year you would be in the same office and making me laugh each day. C-O-L-U-M-B-I-A!!

      Love you!!
      Lori (Ethel)

      • Lori Bristol

        I got corrected by the Conster this morning. My Gramma died in 1987, not 1997…
        Looks like my memory ain’t so hot either!

  • Kari Stannard

    Lori,
    Thanks so much for this open and honest post. It isn’t easy to admit that there are just some things we would rather avoid discussing with our loved ones. I feel fortunate that my parents had the forethought to create a living will & trust, but even though they gave me a copy years ago, I never opened the envelope. I don’t know what it includes and have been quite content not knowing. However, as dad approaches 80 and mom turns 70 this year I have to face the facts:
    1. I am blessed to have had them for as long as I have already 2. We never know when our time will come and 3. Our time WILL come so stop turning a blind eye and act like your doing everyone a favor!
    I hope my parents wishes are included in their living will, but after reading your blog I am going to make sure I find out so that I am not left wondering when the time comes.
    Question….did you ever get back to asking your original question about “heaven” again or is that a discussion for another day?
    Thanks Lori,
    Kari

    • Lori Bristol

      Kari,

      Maybe you better be writing the next post! I agree with your points above. Each day we have with our friends and family is a blessing.
      I am glad I have encouraged you to speak to your parents.

      As far as your question, I do feel confident in knowing that Granny accepted Christ a few years ago at an Easter Service at Saddleback. I always tell my friend Betty that she is my witness that Granny checked off the box on the program and bowed her head for the prayer. The more I see her age before my eyes the more I feel compelled to review this with her just to have peace in my heart.

      When’s lunch??

      Love,
      Lori

  • Jeff Turner

    Lori,

    I love this story. This is one of the most difficult of conversations to have. It does cause me reflect on the attempts with my dad who just could not go there. My mom’s parents wanted me to help them plan ahead years ago. I avoided that conversation for awhile. When we finally did the planning I saw the reality of the burden that had been lifted from them and felt bad for not understanding their need to get this done. I should have been more sensitive to their need and done it sooner.

    You heard things you didn’t expect and now know what you could have only guessed and might have guessed wrong. In many ways I had the same experience. Well done! You are a wonderful granddaughter. Granny is fortunate to have you.

    I believe your father is very proud of you as well. You are doing what he would have done if we’re here. You are representing him and doing it well. I am very proud of you and priviledged to know you.

    Your friend.

    • Lori Bristol

      Jeff,

      I am glad that my story has resonated with you and others.
      It is so easy to avoid what we find uncomfortable. I hope others are encouraged to get their affairs in order.

      Thank you for suggesting that my father would be proud. I have often wished he was here to tackle the difficult decisions. Your comment brings peace to my heart.

      I too feel privileged to know you and am thankful for your friendship.

      Lori

  • Mark

    Lori….the first blog I have ever read….I am very impressed….I hope your words cause all of us to remind ourselves that the most important things in life are not things….its relationships….good job….Mark

    • Lori Bristol

      Mark,

      Perhaps you will find Carrie’s post on bullying helpful since I bullied you into reading this post.

      On a serious note, relationships are what matter.! You are among those in my work family who remind me of this daily. I am blessed to work in your presence. I typed that without choking!!!

      From Your Sister You Never Had…….and never wanted……. xoxo

  • Carrie Bayer

    Lori, I love this! I know you have put your heart & soul into caring for Granny- not an easy task to do as I well know. I took care of my grandmother in her last years, too. I had a similar difficult conversation with my parents a few years back which resulted in them visiting a mortuary near their home to pre-plan their funerals. They also bought cemetery property! They we very hesitant at first but warmed up to doing so once they got used to the idea that their daughter was a mortician & could help them thru the process. Thank you so much for sharing your story of Granny & for being such a wonderful & loving granddaughter to her. I love you! Carrie

    • Lori Bristol

      Thank you for enduring the ups and downs that come with caring for Granny! I have cried on your shoulder more than once when she has been difficult.
      Good for you for having the tough conversation with your parents. I am sure you and your family feel as relieved as I do.
      Love you too!!! Lori

  • GREG FORSTER

    Hi Lori,

    Reading your blog reminds me that some conversations are like a ballet dance. They involve sensitivity, tremendous effort and energy expended to get every movement (or word spoken), a story, visualization, imagination…and more. It took you a lot of guts and caring to reach for the right moment, and the right first sentence that would be the best and most appropriate for your beloved granny to appreciate and be open to responding to. Not everyone will pursue this type of moment, not everyone wants to lay themselves open for a possible crushing defeat or scolding “back off” response. I salute you and I appreciate you for your support!

    …and if I am alone when I turn 98 (physically…but never…ever mentally) “who ya gonna call? Lori!!
    Best,

    Greg

  • Lori Bristol

    Thank you so much Greg! Your words are very kind. There were no heroic measures involved, just willingness to lend an ear. We all should be willing to do that from time to timel
    I appreciate your comments and doubt very much that you will be alone when you reach the ripe old age of 98! 🙂

    Lori

  • Maria Fernandez

    Lori Mae,
    How I loved your post! She is blessed to have your love and companionship in her final days!
    Maria

    • Lori Bristol

      Awww My Mari…..
      I miss you so my sweet friend.
      I hope we get to reunite one day very soon!

      Love you,
      Lori

  • Lori,

    Thanks for your open and honest blog about life, relations and hard conversations to have. We know this is a difficult subject to broach with family and friends, but to important not to. Doing what we do you would think that we have an easy task of it, but that is not the case, it is hard for us to. The difference is we see how important it is to have these talks with your family on a daily basis. Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow, nobody, so lift the burden and be bold, talk about it. At a minimum at least you know you took that step and you do not have to second guess yourself when it is to late to change it. Great blog Lori, say hi to granny for me.

    • Lori Bristol

      Thanks Chuck!
      I saw your comment when I was with her today and told her you said, “Hi”. 🙂

  • Kristen

    Hi Lori!
    I agree with Kari, your picture of Granny is precious. Thank you so much for a peek into your personal life with Granny and for the reminder to make preparations for those times we would much rather not speak about! My Mom has been in the mortuary business for years, yet speaking about death in very real (logistical) terms with my most cherished loved ones is a topic I am inclined to avoid. It is so difficult to imagine leaving this earth or watching others leave whom I love immensely, yet careful analysis tells me that it is unavoidable. 🙂 Thanks for the reminder, friend. And God bless you for being a caregiver….you will be rewarded greatly! xo

    • Lori Bristol

      Hi Kristen!

      Thank you so much for your response!

      It is not a conversation I planned to have. When I was in school they called it the “teachable moment”. You may be sidetracked, but it is well worth the trip. This was one of those moments.

      God Bless YOU and your beautiful girls!!

      I wish I got to see you as often as your Mom and Kari!! xoxo