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American In Macau’s 17 Tough Questions To Ask Your Aging Parents

aging parents
By Ashley Sutherland

I experienced many racing thoughts when we decided to accept the job and move to Macau. I thought about what I would pack, could I bring my leather sofa, exactly how many shoes can I fit in a suitcase, would my dogs be allowed to enter the country, I thought of everything that a person might consider. All of the important stuff, or so I thought. I had been living in Macau for just over five months when I received the devastating call from my father on a Wednesday morning. Grandmother Wilma had passed away.

The news felt like a steam engine running into a brick wall. I was completely shattered. My beloved grandmother who learned how to text in her eighties, the only family member who had successfully sent me mail to Macau, who was the most amazing cook of all time, was gone.

I left Macau early the next morning and after 27 hours of travel, I pulled into our family’s hotel in Eufaula, Alabama. Funerals are sad and horrible but I can honestly say that my grandmother’s send off was really beautiful. The First Baptist Church of Eufaula was packed, with much of the town sitting in the pews ready to pay their respects to Wilma Jinks. It was a really special day honoring a beautiful and vibrant woman who lived a long life and passed away during the night in her cozy apartment.

Death triggers many responses in people and it snapped me to attention. After living abroad for almost half of a year, I had never felt so far away than I did following the funeral as I ate lunch with all of my family in Alabama and shared tales with them about my life living in Asia. Talking about my life that was so far away from them made the distance feel all too real.

It’s so ridiculous to even write this but it wasn’t until that moment when I had my full-blown realization of “I live on the other side of the planet” from all that I hold dear.Death and the reality of the future really make you think and truly evaluate what is really important.

Seeing your parent deal with the loss of their parent is horrible. The only thing worse, is imagining the loss of your own parents, but you banish the thought the moment it enters your brain. When I look at my father, he looks the same as he did when he used to push me on a swing, he is still the gentle giant that towers over me and always shows us love. My beautiful stepmother, my tiger mom is still the bubbly southern lady that she was when I met her for the first time when I was four. My mother always looks young and vibrant and often I find myself holding her back from extreme physical activity that she constantly wants to pursue and my stepfather continues to have the sharp mind of the IBM executive he was in his early years. It’s like our parents never change…until they do.

When you finally open your eyes to their physical and mental changes, it completely catches you off guard. How did I pay attention to every hint of aging hair on my head, slight wrinkle on my face, and other changes to my mid-thirties body but somehow miss the aging process of my parents?

I have to admit that I am pretty fortunate, generally speaking, all of my four parents are healthy but I know that not everyone can say the same thing.

This new re-evaluation led me to think, how should I handle living abroad as my parents enter the senior season of their lives.

One of my dear friends in Macau ran back to the States earlier this year when her father suffered a medical emergency and sixty-nine days later she is still tending to his care back at home. I left Macau seven weeks ago after only planning to visit for two brief weeks. My stay was extended to offer support to my parents and a golf partner to my Dad during a time in my life where my schedule was flexible for the first time since high school.  This trip ignited new considerations regarding my parents and a game plan must be constructed. If this article inspires you too, I am glad.

It is time for you to start having more candid discussions with your parents. It is important to understand their lives and their wishes in times of emergencies and even death.

Here are a few of the areas that you should definitely discuss with your senior parents as you continue your journey abroad or really if you live anywhere outside of a quick car drive to reach their side in a time of need.

 The 17 Tough Questions To Ask Your Aging Parents


1. What kind of medical insurance do you have and what does it cover?

2. If you have United States Medicare Insurance, do you also have a supplemental insurance and what does it cover?
*A special note: if you are covered by United States Medicare (offered to Americans over the age of 65) and experience any type of health issue that may require extensive care, Medicare will cover up to thirty days in an inpatient rehabilitation clinic for free, if a physician admits the person to hospital for three days. (This is a huge benefit to research further for those of us that live abroad and cannot get to our parents quickly)

3. In the event of a medical emergency, who can sign papers or make directives: financial and medical on your behalf?

4. What is your medical history?/ Do you have a past medical history of the following: high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart conditions, mental illness, or irregular levels in your blood like sodium, magnesium, calcium, or potassium?

5. What medications are you currently taking and the dosage?

6. What is your advanced directive (i.e. if you suffer extensive bodily damage during a medical event, do you want to be kept on life support?)

7. What are your requests when you pass away? Do you already have a funeral plan in mind?


8. Should an emergency arise, who will be contacted? If your parent lives alone, who will know to look for an “in case of emergency” list?

9. Who will know how to contact me abroad if something happens to you?


10. Do you have a life insurance policy?

11. Who is your beneficiary?

12. Who will be handling your estate?


13. If you are unable to make decisions for yourself like in the event of an emergency, who is able to make decisions on your behalf?

14. Does your financial institution allow you to have a record of your “in case of emergency” list?


15. Have you built a retirement fund?

16. If you live to the great age of 100, will your retirement savings be able to support you?

17. If the funds run low or out, what is the game plan? Will you need to live with me or another family member? How do you feel about Senior Communities or Assisted Living?


These questions may be a little difficult to discuss with your parents but let me encourage you to try anyway. As much as we feel that our parents are invincible, and they may feel that way too, there is no time like the present to be prepared. I wish you the best of luck!

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Also by American in Macau:

American in Macau’s Ultimate Typhoon Survival Guide

American in Macau’s Ultimate Guide to International Pet Relocation

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