Our increasingly global society has made the world feel much smaller. We're becoming incredibly mobile and in many industries it’s easier than ever to move between cities or countries for an exciting job.
Many people use email and social media platforms to feel close to family back home whilst building a new life abroad. Regular use of these types of digital media tend to make family members feel closer than they really are.
It’s often only when we have to make a hard decision, or need to have an important conversation, that family members living abroad feel far away. This can make talking about passing preferences and repatriation very difficult.
Read on for my advice about how to approach end of life planning with relatives who live far away from you.
When to begin discussing end of life decisions.
Everyone has different feelings about the timing of end of life planning. Ultimately it comes down to the relationship you have with your family, and often to your family’s level of pragmatism.
It’s a good idea to begin discussions as early as you feel comfortable. The more open and relaxed family conversations about passing preferences are, the easier the end of life process will be for everyone.
One of the reasons I encourage early planning is an increased feeling of control for everyone involved. Open discussions minimise the stress and anticipatory grief common in the final stages of life. They also help to minimise confusion about a relative’s wishes after they have passed away.
Discussing passing preferences early on is particularly important for geographically dispersed families, as predicting each other's wishes is even more difficult than usual. Plus, logistical issues such as time zones or language barriers can tend to make planning ceremonies from abroad tricky without prior guidance.
Also, depending on the situation there may be complications such as repatriation to bring up early on. This will help ensure the smoothest possible process for your whole family.
How to bring up end of life decisions.
When you live far away from close family, starting a discussion about your passing preferences can seem hard. Thankfully though, due to the flexible nature of online communication it’s becoming easier than ever to reach out to relatives who've moved away.
A good way to plan the conversation is to schedule a phone call or Skype session with your close family members. Before the scheduled time, make a short list of topics you want to cover. It works best to run through all topics in one go so the call ends with a clear plan.
Of course, it’s your decision as to whether you wish to tell your family that you want to discuss passing preferences before you call them. If your family is fairly practical, logical and direct, it’s a good idea to give them a heads up - that way they can mentally prepare for the conversation.
On the other hand, if your family is more emotionally driven a less direct approach can work well. This may involve weaving the topic of passing away into a phone call by casually bringing up the death of someone famous or fictional.
From there it can be easier to segue into the topic of individual passing preferences by using open ended questions like “Have you ever thought about where you would like to be laid to rest?”.
End of life decisions to discuss.
The most important topic to raise with family members living abroad is repatriation. Repatriation involves laying someone to rest somewhere other than the place where they passed away.
If international transit is on the cards for someone you know, it’s best to involve a specialised funeral director who can help you navigate the process. Preparations need to be made in line with the receiving country’s policies, legislation and transport system.
Other important preferences to talk about with your family are the nature of the funeral ceremony, body disposition wishes and any relevant financial issues.