In a recent Facebook post “Processes to go through with your parents before they die,” Daniel Schmachtenberger, founder of the Critical Path Institute, outlined seven simple exercises to use with your parents that can offer significant healing and completion for their life and yours.
While Daniel shared these processes in the context of the impending death of a parent, the reality is that your parents are heading toward death, even if there is no official diagnosis. And starting these processes when mortality isn’t immediately on the table is even better.
Create a timeline of all the big events in their life, starting with birth and their earliest memories up to the present. This is a great way to get to know them even better while you still can. Recalling their life through these stories can help them harvest the gifts, relive the good times, and identify any areas that still feel unresolved.
There are apps for creating timelines, but it’s easily done with pen and paper. Create the timeline by writing “birth” on the far left of the page, and draw a horizontal line going towards “death” on the far right. Experiences are placed on the line chronologically in the order they occurred. Positive experiences are depicted as vertical lines going up from the horizontal line, and difficult experiences as lines going down. Write short descriptions to correspond with each experience.
One way to help prompt memories is to ask questions about different people, places, and things from their past: romantic relationships, jobs, and places they lived. Going through old photos, letters, and music can also trigger meaningful memories.
When documenting their life events, the positive experiences can simply be recalled and enjoyed. For the negative ones, you can ask them what they learned from the experience and write that lesson in the description. In this way, you can find beauty and meaning in all of it.
To foster healing in your personal relationship with them, focus on three areas:
If possible, help other family members go through the above healing process with your parents. Help your dying parent make peace with everyone in their life, even if some individuals can’t speak directly with them. Reassure them that you’ll help take care of those loved ones who are in the most need.
Ask them for life advice on anything and everything you can think of. As the old African proverb says, “Every time an old person dies, a library burns,” so make sure to write down or record as much of their personal wisdom as possible.
To make the most of the time you have left, ask them if there’s anything they really want to experience before they go, and fulfill as many of these bucket-list items as you can.
In addition to documenting the positive impact they’ve had on your life, help them inventory all of the meaningful ways they’ve touched the lives of others. You want them to clearly see all of the beauty and meaning their life has brought to the world.
While the above steps can help bring them peace, if they experience any fear of death, do your best to help them move through that. When death comes, you want them to be ready to greet her as an old friend.
If they’re fond of a particular religion or spiritual practice, you can recite their favorite verses, hymns, and/or prayers. Or they might find comfort in hearing their most beloved poems or songs. Silent or guided meditation is often helpful as well. But sometimes, simply offering them your loving presence and holding their hand is enough.
The life stories, lessons, and values that come from these final conversations can be among the most precious of all your family’s assets. And to make sure these gifts aren’t lost forever, I’ve developed my own process, known as Priceless Conversations, for preserving and passing on these intangible assets.
Indeed, I consider such legacy planning so important, this service is included with every estate plan I create. Using a series of helpful questions and prompts similar to the exercises Daniel outlines, I’ll guide you to create a customized recording in which you share your most insightful memories and experiences with those you’re leaving behind.
What’s more, using Priceless Conversations, you can ensure these life lessons are documented and preserved well before you and/or your loved ones are close to death. And because it’s an integral part of our planning services, you won’t have to do everything on your own—I’m here to support you the entire way.
Though estate planning is mainly viewed as a way to pass on your financial wealth and property, when done right, it also enables you to preserve and pass on your true legacy: your memories, values, and wisdom. And it can also be a source of overall healing in the family. With the right support, having these all-important final conversations doesn’t have to be intimidating or awkward at all.
In fact, with me, the entire estate planning process can put your life and family relationships into a much clearer focus and ultimately be an incredibly uplifting experience for everyone involved.
This article is a service of Beverly R. Davidek. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure that families and business owners make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for themselves and the people they love.