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

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?


Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.


  1. Molly says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

        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!!!!!

  2. Melody Hiller says:

    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 says:

      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”.

  3. Terri Janovick says:

    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

    • Lori Bristol says:

      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!!

    • Patricia Kolstad says:

      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

  4. 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 says:

      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.

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