How to Start a Conversation with Loved Ones About Funeral Planning

“I’ve tried to ask my parents about funeral planning, but we all got uncomfortable and quickly changed the subject.”

“I know my family members won’t all agree on funeral planning decisions, so we’ve been avoiding that conversation.”

“When I asked her about her wishes, she said, ‘I just want to be cremated.’ We never continued the discussion after that.”

Do any of the scenarios above sound familiar? Talking to your parent or another loved one about funeral planning might be one of the hardest conversations you’ll ever have. Many people are inclined to simply avoid discussing their own wishes altogether: Less than half of the respondents to a 2015 FAMIC study (age 40 and older) reported they’ve had a conversation about how they would like to be remembered.

But a talk about memorialization might also be one of the most important conversations you ever have. This discussion can provide peace of mind that, when the time comes, you’re honoring their wishes in the way they would have wanted.

If you’ve ever planned a funeral, you know all too well the many questions that must be answered and decisions that need to be made as part of a funeral planning checklist. When you’ve discussed these topics in advance, you’ll have many burdens removed so you can focus on comforting your family members during difficult times.

For many people, not knowing how to start the discussion prevents them from taking the first step. Below are some tips to help you begin productive, meaningful conversations with a loved one about how they want to be remembered.

Get started on the right foot.

Before you initiate the discussion, consider your loved one’s communication style and plan accordingly. Some individuals may prefer to know you’d like to talk about this topic in advance, so they can begin to think about their wishes on their own. Others may prefer a more casual conversation that flows organically in the moment.

It may be helpful to reflect on your previous experiences with your loved one. Think about other important discussions you’ve had (especially if you’ve already tried to talk to them about end-of-life issues), and consider the ways in which those talks were successful or could have been improved.

The starting conditions of an important dialogue like this one can set the tone for the entire conversation. Ensure that the setting is comfortable so you and your loved one feel that you can have an open, honest discussion. Pick a time and place that will minimize the risk of distractions and interruptions for everyone involved.

Make your intentions clear.

It’s common to face doubts about how your loved one will respond to your questions about funeral planning. This is especially true if you’ve already tried to discuss the topic in the past – and that conversation didn’t go very well.

One of the most effective things you can do when beginning a conversation about final wishes is to make your intentions clear from the start. Be honest about why you want them to think about funeral planning, and outline the reasons why it matters, such as:

  • “I want to make sure you are remembered the way you want.”
  • “Talking about your preferences will make things easier for your loved ones.”
  • “It will be important to your loved ones to gather and remember your life.”

Explaining practical benefits can help your loved one understand that, although the conversation might be uncomfortable at first, the outcome will be worth it.

Get others involved when appropriate.

Consider other people who your loved one would want to participate in planning and decision-making. For example, if you have siblings who will also be actively involved in assisting with your parents’ end-of-life plans, ensure they’re aware of the conversation and have an opportunity to be part of it. Keeping an open dialogue among the people who will be affected can help prevent future misunderstandings.

Use resources to help you prepare.

To learn more about discussing your loved one’s memorialization preferences, refer to the Have the Talk of a Lifetime® discussion guide. This guide provides tips and prompts that can help you have a meaningful conversation.

Understanding how advance funeral planning works can help you consider memorial service ideas and other topics you’d like to discuss. To hear real stories about the benefits of prearranging a funeral, click here to watch the Think of Me When…® video presentation. A trusted funeral professional can also tell you more about the process of planning a funeral in advance.

These tips can help set the groundwork for important discussions about memorialization that you – and your loved one – will be glad you had. In an upcoming blog post, we’ll share additional ways you can make the conversation a positive experience.

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