01/08/2013 11:54 am ET Updated Mar 10, 2013

Tackling End of Life Issues

A friend of mine recently asked if I would be literary executor of his estate. He's 81, in great health and a fine poet with a couple of books published. He very gingerly brought up the topic and I was a little unsure how to proceed. I know it's not common to talk about death over coffee, but I was glad we got over the weirdness and could talk about his incredible library and his work. After all, every writer hopes his or her work will live on.

Tackling the subject of death, aging and illness leaves most of us feeling squirmy. It's an inevitability filled with unknowns and lots of denial for many people. I was glad that my friend and I could have the conversation about his estate while he's healthy and writing. Ongoing news and talk about the budget, potential cuts to Medicare and entitlement programs in this country brings this topic home and could serve to inspire more people to have these conversations.

Carolyn Brent started a non-profit called A Caregiver Story to encourage just these types of conversations. Through her organization and book, Why Wait? The Baby Boomer's Guide to Preparing Emotionally, Financially and Legally for a Parent's Death, she shares the story of her father's diagnosis of dementia, her experience as a caregiver and the difficulties that ensued as her family was caught off-guard in agreeing on long term care. Brent suggests being prepared by having a conversation about end of life issues before there's a health crisis. Discussing legal, financial and emotional strategies will help to bring families together during potentially difficult times, rather than letting the stress and fear rule the situation.

Another source of good information on end of life issues is the AARP website. They have forum discussions where people are sharing their challenges and experience. They also have updates on health care and Medicare and how possible cuts will impact seniors. A special section on caregiving has information about finding a caregiver, a blog and online support.

My parents initiated this conversation with my sisters and me a couple of years ago. We all know the where to find the computer passwords and financial and legal paperwork. I don't know how well prepared I feel emotionally. When I told my mother that my friend had asked me to be literary executor for him, we had another good talk about her wishes. My guess is that current events and the stories of friends will inspire little talks over the years. It's kind of like talking to your kids about sex -- you imagine having "the talk," only to discover there are layers and the conversation is ongoing.

I can't say that I enjoy thinking or talking about end of life issues, but one piece of information that was helpful on Brent's site really helped frame why these discussions are so important. She talks about getting prepared early because that will increase an aging parent's ability to make choices and decisions later on. This makes a lot of sense and could give real peace of mind to both parent and adult child. It also provides perspective, making it easier to tackle a difficult subject. If you're a caregiver for your parent or need support in setting strategies for what's down the road, and AARP both offer some good resources.