Are You Putting Off Talking About Your Own Funeral?
That Dreaded Funeral Talk!
Do you shrink from talking to your next of kin about your own funeral wishes? Likewise, are you convinced your family won’t be at all comfortable with you raising the subject?
If the answer to both these questions is yes, you’re not alone because talking about death is a huge taboo in many cultures and all too easy to chronically procrastinate over. But the important thing is that, even if they don’t appreciate it at the time you inform them, it’s a dead cert that later your family will be very grateful that you went out of your comfort zone and spoke up about how you want your funeral to be arranged. And the fact is, as outlined below, getting to the point where your last wishes are out in the open needn’t be as difficult as you probably imagine it to be but first a few things worth noting:
Your Feelings ...
... around planning and talking about your funeral will differ depending on your current state of health and any prognosis you may have been given. If the thought of raising the subject to others is daunting for a person who is pretty much fit and healthy, think how much more onerous of a task it is to do when you have a pressing or serious health issue.
Likewise, if your family and close friends are uncomfortable with you talking about your last wishes when you are well, imagine how much more painful it will be for them if you procrastinate and eventually have to have the conversation when you are in a poor state of health and/or deteriorating.
Why Do It
Especially when you take into consideration how short a time there is to make all the funeral arrangements and how stressed and upset everybody is anyway, it isn’t an overstatement to say that making your wishes known to your next of kin is a laudable act of kindness on your behalf.
Unless they have certain helpful information communicated to them, how on earth will they stand any chance of getting things right for you. And, yes, they do want to get things right and they’ll be all too conscious that if they get things wrong, there will be no second chance to rectify things.
We only die once, and with the aid of all the guidelines below, you'll get that dreaded funeral talk out of the way and be able to rest assured that your personal tastes and unusual foibles are taken into consideration. For example:
- If it's the norm to wear black in your family, but you would like mourners to wear the colours of your favourite football team, people need to be told.
- If you have a particular passion and would like the main floral tribute on your coffin to be in the shape of a tennis racquet, guitar or superhero character, for example, you need to let your next of kin know.
- If everyone else in your family has had a religious funeral but you want a humanist one, it's time to get talking rather than risk not getting what you really want.
Even if you consider yourself to be quite traditional, it still worth confirming exactly which traditions you are particularly keen to have observed, and what sort of atmosphere e.g. sombre or celebratory, you wish to prevail on the day.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of someone wanting to have a funeral wishes chat? At that moment did you wish they had never brought the subject up? Did you try to change the subject or say, “Oh, let’s not go there”?
Then you’re not the only one and, what’s more, you need to be prepared that your family/closest friends will likely react that same way when you try to broach the subject of your own funeral with them.
And another question for you—when someone did speak about their funeral, did you actually converse back and forth with them, or just silently listen under duress?
Be prepared that, if they do converse back and forth with you as you speak about your plans, they might well blurt out something which you feel to be totally inappropriate, absurd or hurtful. Such utterances can spill out because they feel awkward and embarrassed. The poor things probably just don’t know what to say or how to respond. . Thus, take it with a pinch of salt rather than take it to heart if they’re silent or if they say what you consider to be the wrong thing. So now, with your emotions and expectations at least somewhat in check, it's time to tackle that talk.
Stop Staying Silent
Do you currently have funeral wishes which you have not yet communicated to your loved ones.
Talking about death is too often a taboo – a strictly no go area. Even when someone is obviously at the last stages of their life, it can still be the big elephant in the room. So, the sooner you can have that funeral wishes talk, the better.
How to Start That Dreaded Funeral Wishes Talk
Difficult conversations are just that—difficult. They are not, however, impossible conversations. Even if they turn out to be pretty much one-way conversations, getting the information across is the important thing so, next, are some suggestions for how you might get talking or chatting about this unmentionable/taboo.
- Having already thought through the funeral plans you want to convey and having a note of them to hand to refer to in case you dry up mid-conversation, choose your approach as follows:
An Opportunistic Approach
Bring the subject up seemingly naturally/casually. For example, if there is a TV show or news report which touches on the subject of death you can use that as your conversation starter right there and then. For example:
“Although I like the way they did ....... at that funeral, I wouldn’t actually want that for myself. In fact, I’ve been giving the matter lots of thought recently and it’s important I let you know .......”
A Direct Approach
By contrast, you might want to set a time and date in advance and let people know that you have something important and essential to discuss. You can even go as far as to let them know that it’s about your funeral wishes. Assuming you are in relatively good health, to allay the possibility of alarm, also make it clear that you are well and have no plans to keel over for the foreseeable future.
If, Sadly, You Are in Poor Health ...
... your family or close friends may indeed be wondering what you want to happen when you are gone but feel too embarrassed, distressed, guilty or timid to actually broach the subject with you.
Thus, you can consider it an act of kindness on your part to raise the subject yourself in as sensitive a manner as you can at what is a very emotional time. Procrastination in raising the subject isn’t going to help so best get the planning and the talking done as promptly as you can.
But Whichever Approach You Take:
- You might add something along the lines of that, sadly, you (or someone you know) had a very difficult time arranging so-and-so’s funeral and your main objectives in raising this difficult topic is to make things easier for others following your demise.
- You can tell them that you would like to have the comfort of knowing that certain things will go as you wish them to, as far as is possible, when you are gone.
- At some point during your talk, let them know that you are not expecting them to commit all your last wishes to memory. Let them know where they can find a written, and dated account of your wishes. Having your wishes in writing also bears in mind that the conversation may be so excruciating for your family that they won’t accurately remember what all, or any, of your wishes were. So, as well as talking about what your plans/wishes are, be sure to back it up afterward with a letter and/or email.
For a whole host of reasons, it's wise to make a Will and in doing so many people include a direction as to burial and cremation. However, it may be the case that your Will is not immediately available to those arranging your funeral so, again, funeral wishes need to be communicated, and the sooner the better.
Don’t Let Reactions Like These Put You Off Talking About Your Funeral Wishes
- “You want to speak to me about what?”
- “We just don’t talk about things like that!”
- “This is a conversation I don’t want to participate in”
- “We don’t need to discuss this right now – let’s not go there”
Persevere and say something akin to “I know this isn’t an everyday conversation but just please hear me out" – and without pausing for breath just keep going. Even if you have to do all the talking, later on you’ll be glad you soldiered on and got the information across to those who need to know.
once it’s out of the way you’ll be glad you did it.
If You Subsequently Change Your Mind
Going forward, as long as you update all those you have conveyed your last wishes to, it’s perfectly fine if you have second thoughts and change your mind about various aspects of your funeral. Just be sure to back up verbal updates with a written, and dated, communication so that there’s no room for doubt as to what your most recent thoughts and desires are.
For most of us ...
...at some point or another in life, something will prompt us to ponder our inevitable demise. This was the case for a friend of the writer of this page and, in planning his burial service, he was particularly thankful he came across Ray Brown’s publication entitled He found it to be an embracing, deep, thought-provoking, but practical and very witty, read. He has since gone on to make his funeral wishes known to his partner and family as well as planning and making some rational changes for the future. The upshot is he feels upbeat and ready for whatever life has next for him, plus he feels he’s done all he can to avoid contention or conflict (some examples of which follow) in his family after he’s gone. Winning the Endgame: Aging Wisely and Dying Well.
Potential Negative Consequences ...
... of not planning and communicating your funeral wishes include
- Discord in the family at an already stressful time. For example next of kin may be at odds/arguing about where you will be interned! Or there could be conflict over how much should be spent on various aspects of the funeral.
- Lasting Uncertainty - Those grieving will never truly know if they have done what you would have wanted. For example wondering if they should have buried you instead of cremating can be a heavy burden indeed.
- Irreversible Rifts - In a fragile, shocked, emotional state, the stain of having to second guess you and engage in posthumous mindreading could result in intense outbursts and/or full-blown arguments. Sadly, some things are not easily forgiven and permanent estrangement in the family could arise.
Do also take into consideration whether you want to let all or most of your next of kin know what your plans are as opposed to just one or two selected people. Further, if you hold strong views about organ donation, it's as well to let your next of kin know.
But What If ...
... you’ve tried your best but having the conversation is still, for some reason, totally out of the question? Then you could resort to communicating your wishes in writing only, e.g. by letter or email.
However, if you don't have a face to face conversation about your funeral wishes, when you write just sure to ask for an acknowledgement of safe receipt so that you know the letter/email has been delivered/read. Additionally, inviting the recipients to come back to you (in writing/in person) for clarification if they have any queries is a wise move and can help avoid possible misconceptions.
When It's All Done and Dusted
It cannot be overestimated how good it feels for a person to know they have done everything possible to give a departed loved one a send off they would have been both satisfied and delighted with.
Moreover, planning and conversing about your funeral wishes is an important opportunity to help your family better cope with the immediate aftermath of your death and to be in harmony thereafter.
So Put an Entry in Your Diary Right Now -
and make it a priority not to forget or neglect to talk about your funeral plans and wishes
© 2017 Sonia Sylart