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Act to give your loved ones peace of mind

It can be difficult to talk about death or dying. Oftentimes such talk makes us feel uncomfortable, as if somehow by doing so we summon the "death angel" unto us. We are paranoid of thinking about the possibility of death or dying, so when such thoughts come, we quickly dismiss them. For many, it is the thought of a child, parents or other close loved ones dying that causes great anxiety.

That anxiety often makes it difficult for us to have important conversations with our loved ones about death. If you have aging parents or elderly grandparents, it is important to discuss, perhaps, the state of their business affairs and where they keep the life insurance policy, for example. A conversation about a loved one's final wishes, from whether or not to resuscitate to how and where they should be laid to rest, is also hugely important.

The one thing that life and death have in common is they both bear a kind of uncertainty. I think, however, the fear most people have of death lies in its power to end life -- this, which is certain, at least in a natural sense.

I used to wonder how was it that a child could have the strength to plan a funeral for a parent. I have always thought about the tremendous amount of pain of such a loss and how distraught I would likely be. So, in my mind, I reasoned that all the arrangements had to have been previously made. It was the only thing that made sense to me.

I recently learned through the experience of a close friend of mine, who lost her father unexpectedly, that strength comes and you have to put on your "business hat." That is what she said to me. She told me that because I would want everything nice and to be carried out a certain way that I would be able to function in that role. She had to write an obituary and pick out a coffin and secure a place for the service and deal with the insurance companies and call friends and the list continued. As she spoke, I still imagined myself a total mess.

Her story made me even more aware of the importance of having those conversations with one's parents because so much, if not all, of the decisions and business affairs are left up to at least one of the children. I realized that in the case of my family, that person assuming that responsibility would undoubtedly be me.

So, in light of this realization, I am embarking upon a journey of information-gathering with my parents. I am creating a checklist of important things to know. Some things will not change over time, while other things will not. But saving the information in an electronic file will allow me to go back and modify as necessary.

These kinds of conversations can be scary to have, and maybe you cannot bring yourself to talk about that dying stuff. If this is the case then, create a list of important questions and have your loved one to answer them in writing. This way you avoid "talking" about it, but nevertheless, you have the information you need.

If you are a parent, it might also be a good idea for you to write a letter. Write a letter for your loved ones detailing such things as your final wishes and giving the instructions about where you have kept your insurance policy, the state of your affairs and how to distribute your belongings. You can seal the letter in an envelope once all details have been outlined and you can give it to a trustee and have them hand it over to your family in the event of your death.

Whatever works -- but do something.

There are some things we cannot control, like death, but that is not an excuse to not have certain things in place that will ultimately give you and your loved ones a peace of mind in the event of your death.

Contact columnist LaTonya Dunn at