End-of-Life Planning radio interview with CBC

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Almost half of Canadians don’t know their partner’s end-of-life wishes. CBC Radio Host Gloria Macarenko recently spoke with Arbor Funeral Director Samantha Stokotelny about how to broach the complex conversation about death.

End-of-Life Planning interview with CBC

Radio Interview Transcript:

Gloria Macarenko: Lots of people have a retirement plan, a rough idea of how long they plan to work and the income they can expect in retirement, and lots of people have a will as well. But not everyone has a specific plan for their end-of-life care, which is understandable. This could be a tough conversation for some people to have, so with us today is Samantha Stokotelny, a funeral service professional with Arbor Memorial. Samantha, hello there, good afternoon.

Samantha Stokotelny: Hi, good afternoon. Thanks so much for having me and thank you.

Gloria Macarenko: What kinds of decisions should people be making about their own end-of-life plans?

Samantha Stokotelny: Well, it's a good question. Many Canadians are unaware that there are actually 87 decisions to be made when a loved one passes away and many of those decisions can actually be made ahead of time. That's a lot to manage if you think about it for a partner or for a family in their time of grief, and it makes it all that much more stressful when you didn't have a conversation with your family beforehand about what your wants are. And certainly, if you didn't plan financially in advance as well. And as we all know all too well, life is all about unexpected and unanticipated events. So, if we just look at what's going on in the world today and if we consider the past two years, you know, it is never too soon to plan for the future. I've been saying that the time to plan is now for years, but now I say that with conviction. Helping grieving families through one of the most difficult times in their lives, for over 16 years as a licensed funeral director. Sitting across from families, I can tell you from firsthand experience that pre-planning makes all the difference for those loved ones who are left behind. After the loss of a loved one, oftentimes they say they feel broken or they feel like they're left to pick up the pieces, and then they need to finalise the arrangement. So, having these end-of-life discussions, which will then turn into funeral pre-planning, there's a difference. That's truly a way to safeguard against the unexpected. So, when we talk about, pre-planning specifically, and you (Gloria) just talked about, retirement planning and estate planning, it can be woven into all of those planning tapestries. Even wedding planning, that is a time for an individual or a couple at any stage or any age to have that conversation, because the sooner they have it, the sooner they'll have peace of mind. And the sooner you have it, the easier it is, believe it or not, to have the conversation because the inevitable seems so far away. Rather than having the conversation, when you're speaking to an aged parent or maybe someone whose health is failing.

Gloria Macarenko: Ok, the sooner the better. The sooner the better. I get that message, but how do you even prepare for that kind of conversation? How do you set the stage for an important conversation like that?

Samantha Stokotelny: Yes, good question. Well, the first step is that you need to be prepared. So, I like to tell people to figure out what it is that you want in terms of your own funeral arrangements and how you want to be remembered. Then it’s easy to share those details about your own end-of-life wishes with a loved one. It really opens up that conversation to have a dialogue. When you're thinking about your funeral arrangements, that’s an opportunity for you to reflect on what is important to you. And then you can share those details as well, and weave them into a personalized event that is playing in your mind. For instance, what are you passionate about, religious considerations, interests, family life, personal community, affiliations, and then you can bring that forward, and that's going to help facilitate those conversations with loved ones. So, the first step in the discovery process is to discover your own needs, establish where you stand in your knowledge of the funeral arrangements and then compile the information and create the unique plan and final details. But certainly, including loved ones in that conversation is an important start. There are several ways to do that. You could start by discussing burial or creation. Oftentimes, that will open the door to a broader conversation. You could begin the conversation by saying something like, ” Hey, I heard say that there are 87 decisions to make when someone passes away” That's a way to start the conversation as well.

Gloria Macarenko: If you approach it from the point of view that I do not want to burden those who I leave behind. The more I do now, the more pressure I take off of them because they're just saying, "that's what she wanted and we're just going to go ahead with that."

Samantha Stokotelny: And well, that's just it. And you can also reiterate these points to family members so that they understand why it's important to discuss it and that they see that it's important to you. Because you’re going to reduce emotional and financial stress for family members and in most cases, it is going to help prevent any sort of family conflict or ease any sort of tension when making decisions, especially when people feel that they're not informed. People want to do what's best for their family and maybe people don't always want to make those decisions for them. You are preparing financially on your own terms, so you'll be saving money. Share this information with your family and let them know your wishes are met, and that is encouraging this meaningful conversation that we're having right now. So, if people understand why you are bringing them into view, then they're going to be more open to discussing it.

Gloria Macarenko: Well, how formal doesn't have to be? If you’re having a conversation with one of your offspring, for example, but not everybody is included in the conversation, and after you've passed there's an argument, should you have a signed document to confirm these were your wishes?

Samantha Stokotelny: Yes, so that's the next step. The first step is really understanding what it is you want and then bring your family into those discussions. Ultimately, you would pre-plan your arrangements secure them financially, and also have a contract that shows the products and services. Then they are recorded for your family and they should know that. It's also very important that they know where those records are kept. Of course, the funeral home would have a record, but it’s important that all of the family knows where all the important documents that you're talking about reside. Important documents like the will, funeral arrangements and cemetery arrangement. And a lot of parents avoid discussing their funeral arrangements with their adult children because they want to protect them. Of course, they always have that parental instinct and fear that it will make them feel uncomfortable. But people will become comfortable with being uncomfortable when the discussion comes because when we talk openly about it, it will make things easier for the family. The hard part is the first step. Often, if you attend a funeral together, that is a convenient time to talk about funeral preferences. What did you think of that hymn? Would you want your service at a church? Or if a public figure passes away and there's media coverage, discussing their legacy, that's a really good way to start the discussion about your own legacy, estate planning and what should be included in your funeral arrangements.

Gloria Macarenko: I want to see that list of 87 decisions that have to be made.

Samantha Stokotelny: Yes, absolutely. Well, there's actually a brochure that lists all of the things that need to be confirmed and done. The 87 decisions brochure is available at any Arbor Memorial location. So, I suggest that you and everyone else pick one up so that you can see what's involved.

Gloria Macarenko: Well, and I'm sure you've got lots of experience with people who presume that they know someone's wishes, but that may not be the case. I mean, where have you seen things go wrong?

Samantha Stokotelny: Yeah, when you plan ahead, you relieve that unnecessary emotional and financial burden for the family. When you pre-plan and pre-pay that means no one's left scrambling to decide whether or not mom wanted to be buried or cremated, how to reflect your heritage or the financial aspect of it. You know, a popular misconception is just because you told the family member tha you wanted something "simple" and to not make a fuss over you, that constitutes a conversation. Everybody's idea what "simple" is different, including family members. Some family members would want a "simple" memorial and some take "simple" to mean no memorial at all. So, it is really, really important to have the conversations and follow it up by taking action and recording your wishes and securing the financing as well.

Gloria Macarenko: A good place to start, Samantha and as you say, the sooner the better. Thank you very much.

Samantha: Thank you so much.

Gloria Macarenko:  That was Samantha Stokotelny, a funeral service professional with Arbor Memorial.

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