There are a lot of changes that we have had to adjust to since the pandemic began a year ago. Not only are masks, social distancing, and increased handwashing a big adjustment, but we also have had to cope with the growing death toll. Before COVID-19, it was rare to hear about so many people losing their lives in a single day. This has brought an uncomfortable topic into the home: death. Before the pandemic, many families avoided talking about death and funeral planning at all costs. However, now it is more important than ever for families to be on the same page and to be prepared.
While this topic can be very uncomfortable, you and your loved ones will be glad that you had it. Discussing death and last wishes can help family members connect and be open with each other. Here are 7 tips for talking about funeral planning with your loved ones.
1) Make Sure You Are Listening
No matter your age, it is important that you listen to what your family members have to say if they bring up death. Many young people dismiss the notion of death and funerals as something that is a long way off. However, even if you feel young and invincible, there may be someone in your life who does not feel quite so invincible. That person may need to talk through some of their last wishes or may need to vent about their feelings surrounding funerals.
If this is the case and a loved one brings it up, be sure to listen to them. It might be a topic that you don’t think about too much, but it may be all too real for them. So don’t try to change the subject, distract them, or offer comfort when what they need is a sounding board.
This looks different in every family. In some families, grandparents pre-plan their funeral and tell everyone who will listen all about it. In other families, “death” is treated like a bad word. Whatever the case, listen to what others have to say about their last wishes, their thoughts about death, and what they want for their funeral. It can be therapeutic for both of you and it may make them feel more comfortable in their decision making process.
2) Accept the Fact That it May Be Uncomfortable
It isn’t an easy topic. Thinking about your own death or a loved one’s can be a very emotional experience. While it may be tempting to shut it down, these are very important conversations to have. If a parent tries to discuss whether they want to be buried or cremated, listen to them. It may be a sad and uncomfortable conversation, but that is valuable information to know.
If you are on the other side of the conversation and are trying to explain your final wishes to your family members, they will likely be much more uncomfortable than you will be. A good trick to make the conversation easier is to bring it up small bits at a time. For example, if you are watching a movie that has a funeral scene, that would be a good time to bring up some of your wishes. Every time you bring up the topic of funeral planning, it will be a little bit easier. And that way, a lot of emotional information is not dumped on anyone all at once.
3) Use Stories To Lighten the Mood When Talking About Funeral Planning
Remember the TV show Six Feet Under? It’s a touching, humorous series about a family that runs a funeral home. It goes to show that death doesn’t have to be such a deep, dark topic. One way to facilitate discussions about funeral planning or lighten the mood during them is to use storytelling. For example, most people have some family lore that everyone knows. Like, maybe a great great great - and a few more greats - uncle is rumored to be buried with a secret family heirloom. Or a great aunt’s ashes went missing and none of the aunts or uncles will admit what happened to them. Maybe grandma was so uptight about her makeup that she was known for telling everyone who would listen that they better not mess up her lipstick for her viewing.
Everyone knows some interesting funeral stories - some morbid, some sweet. Stories are a good segway into discussing your wishes and explaining your reasons behind them. By starting the conversation in a lighthearted place, it will make your family members less likely to change the subject as quickly as possible.
Another way to broach the topic is to visit the family plot or bring our ashes of loved ones. It is the perfect context to get on the same page about funeral financial matters, burial vs. cremation, and funeral personalization. And if you want your hair to be done a certain way for the viewing, this would be the time to let your family members know that too.
4) Put the Conversation in Context
It’s hard to say which is worse: hard conversations that come out of the blue or hard conversations that begin with the dreaded “we need to talk” line. That is not the way to begin a conversation about funeral planning. No matter which side of the conversation you are one, it is best to put it into context. This can mean telling family stories to lighten the mood and explain the importance of being buried in the family plot. Or it can mean detailing your parents’ funeral and explaining what you want done differently.
Another way to contextualize the conversation is to think about funeral planning tasks together. For example, buying a casket online and pre-planning. With Overnight Caskets’ easy to use online catalog, you and your loved ones can easily browse caskets in the comfort of your home, at your own pace. Even if you aren’t ready to start the pre-planning process, this can be a way for everyone to do a little research and to discuss last wishes.
Online casket buying can also be a great way to get the young adults in the family involved in the process. Many Millennials are nowhere near ready to think about death, yet they are a highly tech savvy generation. If you children or grandchildren tend to shut down when you bring up funeral planning, a great way to get them involved is to ask for help using the internet to shop for caskets - whether you need it or not. It will put them in their comfort zone and give you the opportunity to begin discussing your wishes.
And you never know, you may find a casket that you love at the perfect price. Many families choose to pre-plan their funeral because it allows them to lock in a price before inflation and to get that item checked off the list ahead of time.
Even if you and your loved ones don’t decide to pre-plan, browsing for caskets online can still be beneficial. For one, it will make everyone more comfortable thinking about death because it will cease to be a taboo topic. For another, it can give you an idea of what kind of casket your loved one wants. They may also disclose other personal wishes, like a favorite poem, a preferred type of flower, or a certain neighbor who should not be invited.
5) Keep the Topic Open
If you have ever planned a wedding or been part of the process then you will know how many times it is possible for someone to change their mind. Planning weddings, choosing colleges, house hunting, and buying a car are not one-and-done activities, nor is funeral planning. Yourself or your loved ones will likely change your minds a lot. It is normal to go back and forth between cremation and burial. You may also become interested in alternative methods, such as green burial or body donation. It is not a decision to make lightly.
For everyone involved, it is important to keep the topic open. Even if it is still a little uncomfortable, it is part of the process to talk details over multiple times. Similarly, it also may be important for loved ones to bring up the topic in order to process it. The loss of a loved one is a big life change for everyone involved. To go from never discussing death to suddenly losing someone would be quite jarring and traumatic for the entire family By discussing death and funeral planning, it allows the entire family to confront the elephant in the room and come together to accept mortality.
6) Tackle Small Tasks & Talk As You Go About Funeral Planning
If funeral planning seems daunting to you as the funeral planner, it will be one hundred times worse for your children or siblings if they have to do it all of a sudden all at once. The key to making the process more bearable for everyone is to take it one step at a time and have those important discussions as you go.
For example, maybe one day you have an initial burial vs. cremation talk. Then you bring up the question of a will, as well as who gets the family heirlooms and who will care for one of the grandparents if the other one dies. This may necessitate a visit to the family lawyer and require some updates be made to the will. Once that is accomplished, it may be time to open up the computer and research information about buying a casket. Whereas most people know a thing or two about buying a home or a car, very few people know the first thing about what to look for in a casket.
When looking at caskets, some initial decision will be:
If you have questions about what these terms mean or any other questions about the process, feel free to contact Overnight Caskets with questions.
After you have the discussion about caskets, you will need to think about location, a headstone, and purchasing a burial vault - which can also be purchased online. Many families find location to be the hardest decision to make. Unless you have a family plot, people may be torn on whether they want to be buried near their siblings or their parents if they are buried in different cemeteries. Since location can be costly and challenging to change, make sure that everyone is on the same page about it.
If you or your loved one does not have a family plot or is not being buried with a spouse, then they will need to decide on a headstone. Considering that there are so many options on this front, it may be helpful to take a short stroll through a local cemetery. This does not have to be a morbid event - bring your dog and turn it into a game of fetch.
7) It May Take Time, So Be Patient
Whether you are the one pre-planning your own funeral or if you are trying to help your loved ones plan ahead, it will be a process. For many families, it takes time to even think about funeral planning and even longer to act on it. Because it is such an easy thing to keep putting off, you may find it difficult to make such progress. It’s true that life often gets in the way and major life events end up taking up most of your time and attention, leaving things like funeral planning on the back burner.
It’s okay to take the planning process a few steps at a time. It is also okay to broach it gradually with family members. The first time you try to bring up the topic, it may be awkward and it might not go anywhere. Keep trying and keep looking for ways to make people open to discussing it. While it is a hard conversation to discuss, it is important that the family is all on the same page regarding last wishes, the will, and funeral planning.