How To Talk To Parents About Funerals – Strategies & Tips


How to talk to your parent about funerals

It is very hard to plan a funeral in a short time when a loved one, such as a parent, dies.

There are many factors to consider and people that are involved, so it is far better to plan the funeral ahead of time.

Of course this isn’t a pleasant conversation and it can often make people very upset to even consider this necessary step.

So is there a way to bring this issue up and not to make your parents feel uncomfortable while you get all the vital information you’ll need later?

You want to talk about why it is important to do this and that you want their wishes carried out to the fullest. To do this you need to know what they are, and how they want them executed. Try to explain how it will benefit all involved and give them, and you peace of mind now and during the event.

This is a very hard subject to breach and not all parents and loved ones will be as open to discussing it as others.

You need to read the situation and start this conversation as early as possible, the sooner the better.

I have outlined some strategies and tips on how to talk to parents about their funerals. 

Common excuses why people don’t talk to their parents. 

It is common for people to avoid the subject of death, especially when it comes to family members.

It can be even harder to talk to your parents about it. Here are the most common reasons why people don’t want to talk to their parents about death, don’t let one of these stop you. 

  • Avoidance- Don’t avoid talking about funeral arrangements with your parents. Some people just feel really uncomfortable talking about death and they avoid the subject at all costs.  You don’t want to be grieving and have all this fall upon you at once. 
  • Tomorrow Syndrome– We all become busy in life and often we put things off. It can be very easy to put off talking to your parents about there deaths. You may actually be busy or just keep telling yourself I will do it next time, but either way, this is not that way to go. You never know when these types of situations will arise.  
  • Someone else will do it- This often happens when people are in a larger family and they may not see their parents or other family members that often. Everyone else is thinking that someone else will do it. It could even be the case you believe that the other spouse will just take care of everything, which is often not the case. 
  • Money- Funerals are expensive and most people know this, so they may be avoiding the subject because they don’t have any money to pay for costs. The truth is that by planning ahead and knowing the wishes of your parents you can save a lot of money and headache. 
  • Health- A lot of people are very healthy and in shape. When we see these people we don’t ever think about death, we think that we want to be these people when we get older. Death can happen at any time for things such as an underlying health condition, a terrible accident, or even a pandemic. It is better to plan ahead. 
  • Refusal/Lying- This is a sensitive topic because some people will refuse to talk to their children or others about death. They don’t want to think about their own mortality or have other issues surrounding it. Sadly this goes hand in hand with people lying to children and spouses. They don’t want to talk about it so they say it is taken care of when it has not. 

Why is it important to talk about death and funerals?

It is a fact of life that in most circles in America, death is not a common subject to discuss. This is especially true for one’s parents.

Would they like a religious or non-religious ceremony? We all think we know our loved ones the best but in reality, most of us are unsure about what type of service if any they would actually want. 

By talking about what sort of service/funeral hey would like is the only way to be 100% sure that your parent’s wishes are completed in the manner they would have wanted.

Whatever your age and their age may be, it is never too early to start talking about death and what they would want for the end of their lives. 

It may and probably won’t be a comfortable conversation, but it will help to guide you in the decision you may be forced to make if it is an untimely death.  

This will not only put them at ease after it is finished by you and all of the rest of the family as well. This could also ensure that your loved ones will do the same for you. Just starting the conversation is the first step, remember it doesn’t all have to be done at once. 

When do I bring up the topic of a funeral? 

As soon as you can, the sooner the better. There is no incorrect time to begin to talk about the end of life arrangements.

Life is delicate and things happen where you may lose a loved one at a moment’s notice, You may not even be able to see them and talk to them in their last moments in some circumstances, such as sudden illness, accident, or during a pandemic.

This is a more serious condition but is happening nowadays nonetheless. You always want to be prepared. 

It is important to make your final wishes known and to try to honor the wishes of your closest relatives. Many families will wait until the end to discuss funeral planning, which is already a difficult time.

By broaching the topic earlier in life, during a happy event or when there is a lull in life can make the subject much easier to discuss openly. This can eliminate the idea and worry of imminent loss.

As with most things in life, the way you choose to talk about the end of life arrangements with your parents is up to you. Every situation is different and should be handled with the utmost care and respect,  but keep in mind the importance of having this conversation with your parents.

How to bring the topic up naturally?

By far the best way would be for you to pay your parents a visit right now and just come out with it, but that’s not all that easy now, is it?

So, let’s just talk about a few ways you could naturally bring the conversation up before illness or excessive old age makes it a bigger priority.

Take a stroll in a graveyard

All across the US, graveyards can be absolutely beautiful and a lovely place to walk and reflect on your own life. Some burial sites, such as Arlington, are sites of national pride.

By taking a stroll around your local cemetery or churchyard, you can naturally turn the conversation towards how your parent, or even spouse, would like to be memorialized.

Although perhaps a little morbid, try to focus on the ‘celebration of life’ concept as people are more accepting of this avenue when referring to death.

A view of a funeral home

Another cunning method is to organize a coffee break or dining experience opposite or within view of the local funeral home.

You may even see some sort of ceremony or funeral connected activity which will make it very easy to guide the conversation in that direction.

Again, keep the conversation light, but do press home the fact that you would like to know how they would like to be memorialized.

If you are interested in knowing whether or not you HAVE to use a funeral home when planning a funeral, which can be a huge cost, please read my full article here.

Watch a movie together

Another way to naturally bring up funerals is to watch a movie with your parents which already has that theme built in.

You can probably think of some movies already, but just as a suggestion, you can watch ‘Death at a funeral’ which is a light-hearted comedy, or even ‘Four weddings and a funeral’ which is also a classic.

Crash a funeral

Of course, the best time to bring up the conversation of a funeral is after you’ve attended one.

It may not be wise to wait for the opportunity, but as my Grandfather used to say, when you get older you do tend to go to more funerals than weddings. So unfortunately, the opportunity to take this course of action will probably come sooner than you may think.

Be prepared for all manner of responses

We all want things to go and smoothly, we know that it doesn’t always work out that way. Your parents may be open and ready to talk about their funeral arrangements and they may not. For most people, talking about death is a taboo.

If people do talk about death it is a rare occasion, and it has a tendency to bring up negative emotions which can lead to unexpected/ out of the ordinary reactions. 

You don’t want the conversations to be emotionally charged, while there will always be emotions being totally cold or the opposite will lead to power response from your parents. If it happens this way you or both of you may get agitated and upset. 

Dealing with different responses

Some parents may respond to this by shutting off and becoming silent. Often this arises when the spouses disagree on how the other wants to have their funeral.

By being persistent and bringing it up as many times as it needs could be your only option. For parents that have issues with one another’s end of life, plans may have underlying issues, and seeing a therapist is a good option.

They are trained for these types of situations and could have good insights. If your parents do not want to go to one, you can and they could help you along, remember you have options. 

Having an open mind and being ready for this is the best way to approach it, remember that you are doing this because you love them and they love you.

You want to follow their wishes and give them exactly what they wanted. It may not be what you had in mind or would have done but it is not your funeral.

Showing that you can do this and respects their wishes will show others that they should do the same for you. 

Get the specifics and have it documented 

We all have an idea of what a funeral entails and how a traditional one is carried out. But if you have not planned one before you underestimate the number of decisions that are involved in organizing and carrying out a funeral not to mention the service.

Questions like  ‘What floral arrangements do they want?’ ‘What type of headstone do they want”, “Where do you want charity donations to go to?”

You should have a written record of all of these last wishes and preferences. This will make planning and arrangements much easier. 

Most people aren’t interested, don’t know or care about the specifics of a funeral. For example, they don’t know how to choose a type of headstone or what they want on it.

This can be both a positive and a negative.  Knowing that they aren’t picky about what happens to them and the precise details can make it easier when you are arranging the funeral, it will make you less likely to second guess your choices for your parents. 

On the other hand, when your parents realize how many choices they have it could become time-consuming or even overwhelming. They might want every detail to be methodically chosen and this could take some time. 

So by starting early and planning for this could save you time and also money.  If money is an issue check out my article about how to have a funeral if I can’t afford it. 

You want to have all of this documented for your peace of mind and theirs. This also could stop any arguments or disagreements that may arise from other family members if they feel that you are doing something that they don’t like or they think your parents didn’t want.  

A google doc that only they can edit and others can only see is a great way to start, depending on your state and documents that need to be signed this could even be legally binding. Check your state and local laws about this to be sure. 

Having a will that is on file with an attorney or in a safe place is still the best option to have. These are not usually able to be amended quickly so if they want to change something could take longer. 

Know what needs to be taken care of

There are other things to consider too. You need to know as much about the types of utility bills and other subscriptinos and services that your parents have so that you aren’t surprised by any hidden fees later.

If you are worried about facing a huge utility bill after they die, then please read my article here for more details on your responsibilities and liability.

What questions should I ask my parents?

This will be the hardest thing to do, some of the questions are very personal and they may feel uncomfortable with them.

Breaking the question sessions into multiple sessions is one way to do it. You can even have a document with all of them they can fill out when they are ready is also good, just make sure it gets done.

This is not an all-inclusive list but is a good base.  I have also listed some other topics to bring up while talking about the issue.

All of this paperwork mentioned again varies from state to state, so check with state laws and an attorney to be sure. 

The Funeral plans–  After you have brought up the topic and discussed the basics, you will need to know specific details to plan what type of funeral/service that they want. 

Here are the major questions that will help you to plan the funeral:

Do you want a funeral or service? What about an Eco-Funeral?

What do you want in your obituary? Where do you want to be buried? 

What type of casket, headstone, urn do you want? 

What photo do you want to be in the obituary and at the service? 

Do you want it on a special day or time? 

What people do you want to be involved such as pallbearers, priests, etc?

What type of funeral do you want? 

Do you want to be buried or cremated?

If cremated, where do you want your ashes placed or buried?

What type of funeral or memorial service would you prefer?

Would you like special music?

Any special poems or Scriptures that you want to be read?

Do you want flowers and if so what kind? 

How much money do you want to be spent? 

Instead of flowers, is there a charity or organization that people may donate to instead?

Money- Who will be paying for this and how? It is also a good idea to get a budget to keep in mind.  If your parents live on a fixed income and don’t have much to play with, then you may find my article, on how to pay for a funeral with no money, very useful

Wills and trust-  Do your parents have one and if so where is it located?  Who is the executor of the will? 

Life insurance-What type of insurance do they have? What does it cover? Should you or they take out a policy to cover a funeral?

The power of attorney– Do they have one? Who is it? This document will allow the person that is named to make the decisions and complete transactions for the parent if they are unable or deceased. 

A healthcare power of attorney- You can have different ones, the power of attorney is for all decisions if this one is not specifically named.

Some family members may be better at this than others so they have made it separate if you want. Healthcare is very different from general decisions and people have strong feelings. 

  • DNR do not resuscitate- This is something that will be hard to discuss but has to be done 
  • Hospice/ Retirement homes- Do they want to go to one and if so where and what type?

Tips to make the process easier

Be respectful- People tend to have different views than their parents and the gap is quite wide nowadays. They may be more religious or traditional and want a full funeral. You may not want this but remember it isn’t your funeral, respect their wishes. 

Do your homework-  Besides having questions to ask your parents about what they want, bring answers and options to a conversation with you. Be ready to tell them you do not know and that you are willing to look into things, even if you do not agree with them. This is not a one day process and will take up a lot of time. 

Choose who is going to be there- We love our family but some are not the best at discussing things such as death. You may not want to have some of them in the room for at least the first conversation. Don’t hide it from them though and try to get everyone involved by the end. 

Don’t surprise them- It is probably obvious, but you do not want to spring this on them out of the blue. You can start out by bringing up other topics related to this and work your way towards this or have a plan with them.

Put it into context- Talk about a friend or other family member that did or didn’t have a funeral planned and how it went. 

Listen- With this, you want to do more listening than talking. It will make things easier and you can come back next time with things you want to talk about. 

End on a positive- No matter how the conversation goes try to end it positively and cut it short if need be.

Keep up the conversation- Most things will not be sorted out during the first talk. Keep it up and don’t let it get pushed aside. 

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