Tips for Discussing Funeral Arrangements with Loved Ones

It’s an important conversation that too few of us have had. Talking to your parent or another loved one about funeral planning might be one of the hardest conversations you’ll ever have, but it might also be one of the most crucial conversations. This discussion can provide peace of mind that, when the time comes, you’re honoring your loved one's wishes in the way they would have wanted.

Because funeral planning requires many decisions, family members can be left to guess what their loved one would have wanted when the time comes. Starting a conversation about memorialization preferences now can help remove this burden and ensure your loved one’s wishes will be met.

How to Start a Conversation About Funeral Planning

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.

Involve Others 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.

How to Keep Your Conversation Productive

Although reflecting on how to begin the conversation is an excellent first step, it’s also important to consider ways to keep the talk on track to provide a positive experience for everyone involved. Below are some tips to help you have a discussion that promotes mutual understanding about how your loved one wants to be remembered.

Do More Listening Than Talking

The most meaningful conversations are ones in which the participants know their ideas are respected. Demonstrate to your loved one that you value their stories, preferences and concerns by spending most of the time listening to their insights instead of rushing through the items you’d like to talk about.

Planning resources such as the Have the Talk of a Lifetime® discussion guide recommend asking open-ended questions. This approach encourages free-flowing conversation instead of simple “yes” or “no” answers that restrict your comprehension of their true wishes.

Put the Conversation in Context

A talk about memorialization may lead to a discussion about funeral experiences that you and your loved one have had in the past. For example, you may talk about attending an especially moving funeral together and elements of that service your loved one would like to include in their own memorialization plans.

If you and/or your loved one have been involved in planning a funeral for someone else, that experience can also provide topics for discussion. It can further reinforce a key goal of your conversation: to ease the funeral planning process so family members can focus on spending time with one another.

Adjust the Discussion as Needed

Although you should go into a conversation about end-of-life issues with ideas about what you would like to discuss, it’s important to adjust the talk as other topics come up. These other talking points can lead to discoveries that will ultimately help provide an even more satisfying experience.

A talk about memorialization can be purposeful, but remember to enjoy the time spent sharing life stories with your loved one. You’ll learn new things about one another that you otherwise wouldn’t have had an opportunity to discuss.

Keep an Ongoing Dialogue

It’s unlikely you’ll be able to get all questions answered and plans put in place during an initial conversation. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t seem to make much progress – instead, approach it as the first of many talks to help you learn more about your loved one’s life and what they value most.

Even if you do feel you’ve covered most of the issues you wanted to address, it’s still a good idea to check in periodically to ensure your loved one is comfortable with the plans that are in place. This will also help your loved one understand their plans can be changed later if they realize their preferences have shifted.

To learn more about having discussions with your loved ones about how they want to be remembered, refer to the resources available through Have the Talk of a Lifetime®. A trusted local funeral service provider can also provide information to help you get started with advance funeral planning.

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