Of the many less-than-pleasant tasks a caregiver must take on, one is making arrangements for how a loved one will be remembered. Fear is often a motivating factor as only a fourth of Americans pre-plan their funeral, according to the Funeral Memorialization Information Council. It is emotionally challenging to think about end-of-life decisions. Yet by initiating this conversation now, everyone involved will be in a more comfortable position later. Planning at the time of loss can be a difficult experience as emotions run high or arguments and brash decisions may occur. Here's how you can respectfully encourage those you care for to verbalize their desires and plan a personalized, meaningful goodbye.
Breaking the ice
This is an instance where getting started is at least half (if not more) of the battle. Similarly, the sooner you have this conversation, the better, as the focus will be on a legacy rather than loss when your parents are younger and healthier. However, regardless of their age, what is most important is that you take the first step now.
There is no formulaic way of broaching this dialogue as each family is unique in the way they handle sensitive topics.
Many people recommend setting a time and starting with a statement that demonstrates that you care about your parents' interests and the well-being of the family. For example, you may begin with "Mom and dad, I know this may be an uncomfortable topic, but would you be open to talking about your funeral service and some of the ways you wish to be remembered? When the time comes, I want to know that we are carrying out a ceremony that you want rather than stressing with one another over the details."
Others recommend talking about your own funeral arrangements or pre-planning efforts as a way of breaking the ice, perhaps even inviting them with you to a funeral home so you can go through the arrangement process together.
Another method is to start informally, asking your parents about some of their favorite traditions and how your family will continue those traditions for generations to come before finding a natural transition to the memorial service.
Your parents may resist, saying "Don't make a fuss. I don't want a ceremony. Just bury me and be done with it." It is best to gently remind them the purpose of the funeral service – that it serves as a time for the living to come together as a community and celebrate a life lived as an essential part of the grieving process. Keeping this larger focus in mind will help guide both of you when deciding on the finer details of the ceremony.
Guiding the conversation
After you've taken the first step, what is it that you talk about? Your funeral home is your best resource as its staff can clarify the different services and selections available and help you create a meaningful, personalized ceremony based on your loved one's final wishes and the emotional needs of your family. If your parents are willing, a funeral director can sit down with them to discuss the arrangement process in detail, at no cost to you and your family. If you so desire, you can put your family member's wishes on file with the funeral home and even elect to prepay to secure today's prices, particularly as inflation affects everything from college tuition to dry cleaning.
While this process does cost money, it is another way to negate expenses in the future and can be funded through life insurance, a bank trust agreement or an insurance policy through the funeral home. Although this is an option to consider, it is not a necessary part of the planning process.
Funeral homes have other resources you can use outside of this meeting, such as funeral planning guides and online forms. Some have even adopted online platforms, such as Aurora Casket Company's Advisor, to lead you through the process, allowing you to plan collaboratively with your parent at your own convenience. If going to the funeral home is unrealistic at this time, families can download a free planning guide, find answers to common questions and locate funeral homes at www.FuneralPlan.com.
Keep in mind you do not have to follow these guides in order. As previously mentioned, it may be best to start with discussions such as your parents' favorite places to visit, favorite songs and favorite memories before transitioning to more difficult topics. These types of conversations will assist you in planning a personalized ceremony. You can also start with larger topics such as rather they would prefer to be buried or cremated before progressing to other aspects of their remembrance service.
Do your research
For most, planning a funeral is not a one-day affair. Take your time, do your research and create a service that is best for your family, ensuring the ceremony is personalized and within your budget.
Pay careful attention to what your parent has to say, committing it to writing and verbalizing it back to them to communicate understanding. If there are certain topics they would rather not discuss now, ask if they would be comfortable talking about them later. Respect your parents' decision to decline comment on certain topics as over-persistence may make them feel as though you have something other than their best interests in mind. Being prepared and timing can mitigate these kinds of negative reactions.
You never know, what feels like a daunting task may be rewarding for both parties in the end. Take this as your opportunity to have some authentic conversations with your loved one and let your parents know the legacy they have had in your life.
Lacy Robinson, CFSP and senior professional development trainer at Aurora Casket Company, specializes in helping funeral directors partner with families to create funerals that honor both their basic and personal needs at the time of loss. For more information on Robinson and Aurora, visit www.AuroraCasket.com.