Talking to Your Adult Children about Your Funeral Wishes

The most meaningful parent/adult-children discussions about funeral wishes are done when a parent has two components in place: a written funeral plan and well thought out talking points. With those two pieces, the response from children is almost always an emphatic "thank you!" Most feel comforted and relieved that when the time comes, a plan is in place.

Successful discussions often follow these points:

  1. Health. Put your family's concerns at ease by leading with the truth about your health.
  2. Death is a fact of life. Everyone dies and none of us knows when we will die. Acknowledge that it is not an easy topic to discuss.
  3. Reasons you preplanned. Let your family know why.
  4. Present your plan. You don't have to tell them everything—choose what you think they need to know now and let them know where they can find your plan at the time of your death. Let them know by your tone and words what is up for family debate and what is not.
  5. Answer questions.
  6. Reassure them. Reiterate your health situation and the reasons you have preplanned your funeral.

Example
Firstly, I'd like to let you know that I am healthy. I still have my asthma but that's nothing new. The doctor had no new concerns after my last checkup. In short: I am not dying.

I asked you to come over today because I have an important topic to discuss. I know that you do not want to think about a day when I am no longer here. It's difficult to think and talk about death. But someday each of us will die; it's a fact of life. And while I hope that day is far off in the future, I have no way of knowing when that date will occur.

You know I love you and that I have worked hard as your mom to take care of you. I also know that the day I die will be one of the harder days for you and it saddens me to think of it saddening you.

When Grandpa Tom died, I remember how crazy it was. There were so many decisions we had to make and we had to do them in such a short time frame. We had no idea what he would have liked and frankly, Aunt Cassie and Uncle Terry and I all disagreed. After much thoughtful consideration I have put together a written plan for my funeral. I think it answers the questions you'd ask me if I were still alive. That way you won't have to spend time looking up how to spell Aunt Edna's new married name or discussing what you think I'd like to wear or arguing over what music you think I'd prefer. You'll know how to get in touch with the people who mean the most to me and what charities I like most. And I've also pre-funded my funeral so that you won't have to decide who is paying for my funeral. That money cannot be touched—even if I get sick and my money is used up on health care. I'd be happy to answer any questions. If you don't feel like talking about it, I'll understand too. All you need to know is that my plan is on file at Duksa Family Funeral Homes. No matter if the house burns down or you can't find the key to the safe deposit box—you'll be able get the answers you need with a phone call.

Know that I am healthy. And that I did this because I love you.

Open Forum Discussions
Conversely, Duksa Family Funeral Homes has heard countless first-hand accounts of parents who have held open forum discussions on their funeral plans. Similar reactions often occur:

Alarm: In many cases children will first be alarmed and ask questions such as "Is something wrong with your health?" "Did the doctor have bad news?" "What are you not telling me?"

Denial: In some cases children put their hands in the air as if putting a halt to the discussion and use phrases like "I don't want to think about that" and "You don't have to worry about that, I'll take care of it when the time comes." Many of us want to think of our parents as living forever and we don't want to deal with the reality that someday they are going to be gone. Our defense mechanism is that if we don't talk about it, it is never going to happen.

Disagreement: In other cases, the children think it is a wonderful idea to sit down and get a plan in place. Often, especially when there are multiple siblings, adult children see the conversation as an opportunity to air their views on what and how it should be done. It is our experience that when this happens a plan rarely gets put into place because the parents do not want to have to decide whose opinion to take and whose opinion to ignore. Then when a death does occur, the children who could not come to agreement in the best of times have a very tough time agreeing during this stressful time.

Talking to Your Adult Children about Your Funeral Wishes