How to talk to your loved one about their funeral wishes

In our previous blog post, we talked about the benefits of pre-planning a funeral with your loved one

In this post, we share some tips on how to raise the subject of funeral plans and wishes compassionately and suggest a few questions you may want to ask. 

4 things to consider before talking about your loved one’s funeral

Thinking about our death and the death of our loved ones can be upsetting and rouse all sorts of emotions. So, unsurprisingly, many of us find talking about it extremely difficult. However, when you avoid having this discussion with a loved one, you could leave yourself unprepared for what happens when they pass away and you may not carry out their final wishes.

Here are some things to keep in mind before, during, and after your conversation. 

1. Choose a time and place — the sooner the better

Whether your loved one is sick or they’re simply entering old age, it’s a good idea to talk about their funeral plans while they’re able to share their final wishes.

The best time and place to start is as the subject comes up in conversation. Ideally, somewhere your loved one will feel comfortable and relaxed. If they’re still living at home, you may want to do it at their house. If they’re in a nursing home, you may want to ask if there’s a private room you can use.  Sometimes the opportunity just arrives, maybe after watching a tv programme or film, or a service or funeral you have attended recently. 

2. Think about who you’d like there with you

Think carefully about who you’d like alongside you for the conversation. If you’re talking to your partner, you may want your children involved. If it’s a sibling, you might want to include your other family members. Just be sure not to overwhelm your loved one.  Some people may confide in a friend.

3. Choose your words carefully 

Think about the age of the person you are speaking with, and their understanding of what you are saying.  Try to use words that they would use such as dying or passing away. 

4. Prepare for tears (and other emotions)

This will be an emotional conversation. Don’t be surprised if there’s a bit of anger, tension, or pushback from your loved one, this is normal and everyone reacts differently to this situation.  Some of us face it head on, some of us put our heads in the sand and some of us try to ignore it.  This is normal.  

Try to stay calm and be open about why you’re having this conversation — because you don’t want to be unprepared and unable to fulfil their wishes when the time comes. 

Remember, these are their wishes not yours. 

What should you discuss?

There are several things you’ll want to talk about. Namely, details around the funeral payment, your loved one’s wishes for the service, and anything you’ll need to take care of after it’s over. 

Who’s paying?

Does your loved one have savings set aside for their funeral or a funeral plan in place? If so, you may need to take note of the details so you’re not searching around looking for it when the time comes. 

What does your loved one want to happen on the day?

Here are some questions you may want to get answered about your loved one’s funeral wishes: 

  • Do they have a preferred funeral director?
  • Where do they want the service to be held? 
  • Do they want a secular or religious service?- hymns, readings, poems?
  • Do they want to be cremated or buried? 
  • Who would they like to give the eulogy?
  • Who should be pallbearers?
  • Do they want flowers?
  • Do they have preferences over burial clothing?
  • Would they like a charitable donation made in their name?
  • What music would they like during the service?
  • What other personal touches would they like included? 
  • Do they want their ashes scattered somewhere meaningful or kept by the family?
  • Where would they like their funeral reception, if they want one?  
  • Would they like anything with them- photos?

What happens after?

In the days and weeks after someone’s funeral, there can be lots of admin to deal with — especially when it comes to sorting through someone’s estate and belongings. With this in mind, you may want to ask questions like:

  • Do they have a Will? Where is it kept? Who needs to be notified? 
  • If they have pets, who would they like to look after them when they’re gone? 
  • Would they like their clothes/furniture donated to charity (if it’s not already mentioned in their Will)?
  • Are there any specific items they want to go to people- eg. jewellery/ watch/ personal keepsakes?

Leave room for questions 

Once your loved one has shared their thoughts, you may want to ask for clarification on some of the details. You may even disagree with them on some of their choices. Just try to remember that they get the final say, and you need to respect their wishes.

The wishes should be noted with someone like a solicitor to ensure that they are passed on to the executor of the will. 

Although this can be very difficult, it is also of great comfort to know that your wishes are carried out as you would like and a great comfort to those enabling the wishes at such a sad time. 

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