Talking to your Parents about their End-of-Life Wishes
You remember the feeling, dread settling in your stomach, sweat breaking out on your forehead….it was time for “the talk”. Well here you are again, only this time, it’s your turn to sit your parents down for a frank conversation. We’re talking of course, about death. Specifically, their death, and what sort of funeral arrangements they want to have in place for when the time comes. Some people can be very sensitive about the topics of death and dying, and may find it distasteful or uncomfortable to talk about. However, not having this conversation will lead to additional emotional and financial stress when the time does come. Unclear direction can also cause rifts in the family, particularly when numerous people are involved with making the final decisions. So here are some helpful tips to get started.
Start simply - ask if they have a few minutes to sit down and talk. The most important thing you want to know is if they would prefer to be buried or cremated. If they say they’re not sure, ask what they feel the pros and cons of each are. This may help them settle on an option. Be encouraging and listen to their fears. Share your thoughts for your own funeral as well, this can really help keep the conversation flowing. Remember, this is about their wishes, so do not shut them down if you disagree with the desires they are expressing.
Next, talk about what sort of service they are envisioning. Ask questions like - What do you hope people remember most about you? Or - What do you want your funeral to be like? Are there any favorite songs or poems you want to include? If they do not seem receptive to the conversation, or you can see that they are getting overwhelmed, a good closing question is - Who would you like to be the decision-maker at the time of your death? If the conversation is still going well, you can encourage them to consider speaking with a funeral home professional to start finalizing their decisions. Remind them that they don’t have to share specific financial details with you, but that there will be a cost associated with their services, and if there are pre-arrangements or life insurance policies, you will need to know where to look to find that information when the time comes.
Finally, thank them for their time. They have defined what they want their funeral services to look like, and that will be of great help to you when the time comes. By discussing their wishes now, they are relieving you of the burden of having to guess after their death occurs. Regardless of how well the conversation went, this should only be the first of several. Other questions or concerns will pop up in the future. Continue to be supportive and encouraging. Worst case scenario, if they point-blank refuse to talk about death, do not get discouraged. Withdrawal for now and regroup, try again in a few weeks when they’ve had some time to think about this sensitive topic. Reassure them that you love them, and that you hope it is many years before these decisions need to be put in place.