Family caregivers are responsible for handling many challenging tasks, such as stepping in to manage a loved one’s finances and discussing long-term care options. Another common duty is discussing final arrangements for a loved one and seeing them through.
While a Harris Poll conducted for the Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FMIC) estimates that 89 percent of adults age 40 and older feel that a discussion about end-of-life wishes would be meaningful, only 46 percent had actually spoken with family and friends about how they want to be remembered. Death is an emotionally charged topic that is uncomfortable to think about, let alone discuss with loved ones. Yet broaching this subject early on allows everyone involved to be more comfortable and confident before, during and after a loved one’s passing. Planning a funeral or memorial at the time of need without valuable guidance can be a stressful experience as emotions run high and important decisions loom.
Avoid postponing this conversation and risking waiting until it’s too late. Use the following suggestions to respectfully encourage those you care for to verbalize their desires and plan a personalized, meaningful goodbye.
How to Ask About Funeral Arrangements
This is an instance where getting started is usually the hardest part. Just keep in mind that the sooner you initiate this conversation, the better. Having this talk when your parents are younger and healthier keeps the focus on their legacy rather than their passing. However, regardless of their age, it is important that you take the first step now.
There is no formulaic way of beginning this dialogue because each family handles sensitive topics differently. It’s best to choose a convenient time when distractions or interruptions are least likely. Most people recommend starting with a statement that demonstrates you care about your parents’ interests and the well-being of the family. For example, “Mom and Dad, I know this may be an uncomfortable topic, but would you be open to talking about your funeral services and some of the ways you wish to be remembered? When the time comes, I want to know that we are carrying out plans you approved of rather than stressing or even arguing over the details.”
Others recommend talking about your own funeral arrangements or pre-planning efforts as a way of breaking the ice. You may even invite your parents to accompany you to a funeral home so you can go through the process together.
Another method is to start informally by asking Mom and Dad about some of their favorite family traditions and possibly about their thoughts on services they have attended for late loved ones. You can then transition to asking them about their own desires. Are there any traditions or characteristics of these services that they wish to incorporate into their own final arrangements? Are there any aspects that they’d like to avoid at all costs?
Your parents may resist any or all of these approaches. They may claim it’s far too soon or too morbid to talk about such things. They might demand that you not make a fuss over them and instruct you to just bury or cremate them. But the truth is that there are a lot of details that go into planning a funeral, memorial or celebration of life.
It is best to gently remind them that you want to ensure their wishes are respected. It’s also worth mentioning the purpose of any kind of memorial service—it serves as a time for surviving family and friends to come together and celebrate a life well lived. For many people, a funeral is an essential part of the grieving process. In fact, 72 percent of FMIC poll respondents age 40 and older believe that the services they have attended were an important part of the healing process that follows a loss. Keeping this larger focus in mind will help guide both parties when discussing and deciding on the finer details.
Guiding the End-of-Life Conversation
After you’ve taken the first step, what exactly should you talk about? There are the obvious questions, such as whether they’d prefer burial or cremation, or if they’d like a traditional funeral or more contemporary celebration of life. However, a local funeral home is the best resource for helping you navigate final arrangements. A funeral director can clarify the different services and selections available and assist in creating a meaningful, personalized ceremony based on a person’s final wishes and the emotional needs of their family.
If your parents are willing, a funeral director can sit down with them to discuss the arrangement process in detail, often 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 for funeral goods and services to lock in current prices, which are likely to rise in the coming years due to inflation.
While this process does cost money, it is a way of anticipating and reducing future expenses. Funerals can be funded through life insurance policies, a bank trust agreement or an insurance policy through the funeral home. Although pre-paying is an option to consider, it is not a necessary part of the planning process.
Do Your Research
Funeral homes typically offer other resources you can use outside of in-person meetings, such as funeral planning guides and online forms. It can be beneficial to request an itemized document known as a general price list to see what products and services local funeral homes offer and estimate funeral costs. These tools will allow you to plan collaboratively with your parents at your own convenience.
For most, planning a funeral is not a one-day affair. Take your time, do your research and work with your parents to create a service that is best for your family, ensuring it is personalized and within budget.
Always Proceed with Respect
Keep in mind that you do not have to follow these steps in order. As mentioned previously, it may be best to start with easier discussion topics, such as your parents’ favorite places to visit, favorite songs and favorite memories, before transitioning to more difficult questions.
Pay careful attention to what your parents have to say. Put their wishes down in writing and read them back to ensure you understand what they want. If there are certain topics they would rather not discuss now, ask if they would be willing to revisit them later. Respect your parents’ decision if they decline to comment on certain topics since persistence may make them feel as though you have something other than their best interests in mind. Being prepared and choosing your timing carefully can reduce the likelihood of these kinds of negative reactions.
Getting started can be awkward, but you may find that this daunting task turns out to be a rewarding exercise for both parties. Take this opportunity to have some authentic conversations with your loved ones and let them know the impact they have had on your life. An honest and productive discussion about the end of life can help you both feel better prepared for whatever may lie ahead.