How can I convince my mother to set up final arrangements?...

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 21, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother has stage 4 breast cancer and has for 3 years. We moved her from another state to live near us, and she will not tell me what type of plans (funeral, health care, power of attorney, anything) she has, if any. I am worried that when she does pass away that my husband and I will be stuck with paying for her final expenses. She only goes to temple occasionally, but I know she'll probably want a Jewish burial.

I had approached my mother about her wishes when she was first diagnosed and was told that I would get Power of Attorney for her over "My Dead Body". I am her only child and I am her sole caregiver. I don't know what to do. How can I help my mother understand she needs to set up short and long term goals as well as set up a burial fund. Any advice?

Expert Answers

Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min., serves as the consultant/specialist for Union for Reform Judaism in North America in congregational programs concerning aging and spirituality and their impact on families. In that capacity he created the award-winning program Sacred Aging for congregations. He has written for numerous publications, some of which are available through He founded and edits and writes for other websites such as

The issue of how to begin the conversation of planning and paying for final arrangement comes up regularly as I travel doing workshops for congregations in the area of decision making. It is not an easy conversation. It took the death of my mom's sister to have her become more open to such a conversation. There is an old superstition that we do not discuss "pre-need" so as not to invite the "angel of death". While this may have had traction in previous time, given the contingencies of modern medical technology, people's mobility and contemporary life, most colleagues stress the need for these "pre-need" conversations. That being said, the issue is fraught with challenges; from both a spiritual and psychological. legal and family dynamic perspective. There is a need to relieve the stress of having to make a decision in moments of crises. There is the absolute need to sign an "advanced directive" (so-called living will) and a health care power of attorney (in case you or loved one cannot speak for themselves). It is undestandable why a person would be reluctant to have these discussions. It is an admission of one's own mortality. Yet, given the realities of modern life, there are too many opportunities for one's wishes to be ignored , especially if those wishes are un-stated. It is also important to remember that this conversation can evolve over time. People's wishes change and thus, opportunities to re-visit the decisions are necessary. There are allies to assist you in these conversation; from your own rabbi, to elder care lawyers as well as friends and other family members. It is not a discussion that usually comes about in one sitting. Sometimes, it will take time to allow the reality and necessity of this discussion to become assimilated into one's soul and psyche. Discussing one's own death is never easy so remember that compassion and understanding and patience may be the keys that will allow this very important conversation to take place. Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min