Talking to your parents about end-of-life plans
One of the more difficult conversations most people will likely ever have with their parents is discussing the details about their funeral and end-of-life arrangements after their death. This conversation can be upsetting for anyone who has to consider the loss of their parents. It can also be difficult for the parent themselves who may not want to think about their final days and the end of their life. However, this guide will help ensure that the key topics are covered and that when it is done it will put everyone involved at ease.
When do I have the conversation?
It is never too soon to have this conversation. In many cases, if they have many years ahead, it may be easier to have the conversation sooner than later.
Let them know that it is important that their end-of-life wishes be honored and are known by the family or at least the executor of their will. If arrangements need to be made after they die, it may not be clear to the family what they want and that may lead to stress and possible disagreement, as well as the possibility that some requested arrangements will not be fulfilled.
Also, the conversation does not need to happen in one sitting. In some cases, several sessions may be needed to cover all the topics that need to be discussed.
How do I start the conversation?
Some people ask their parents to have a conversation and formally sit down to discuss it. Others might want to bring it up casually to gauge the level of comfort or discomfort with the topic beforehand.
Other opportunities might be after you watch a funeral scene in a movie (Four Weddings and Funeral or Death at a Funeral, are two good options) or you might suggest a walk through a local graveyard for some exercise if one is nearby and bring up the topic.
Another easy way is to bring up the subject after going to an actual funeral. As people age, they tend to go to more funerals than weddings, so it will be top of mind if they have been to the funeral of a friend or family member recently.
Here are some conversation starters you might use or modify to begin a conversation.
“I have some questions about your wishes for the end of your life.”
“I remember how hard it was for you when [family member] died and no one knew what kind of funeral [they] wanted. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen with us. Can we talk about some of your wishes for the end of your life?”
Or show them some of the unusual funeral options as a discussion starter.
Start with: “Look what I found on the Internet the other day…” Then show them one of the unusual options below.
For example, one company makes mushroom shrouds that a body is wrapped in so it decomposes naturally. Some people donate their bodies to science or a body farm. Some opt for a sea burial. A concept called a sky burial is conducted by Tibetan monks that leave remains to be consumed by vultures on a mountaintop.
What topics need to be covered?
There are many options to be considered for end-of-life arrangements. Here are key questions to ask and information that should be documented:
- What kind of funeral arrangements would they like? (See more information in the section about “handling remains” below)
- Do they want a funeral service or memorial service or gathering or wake? If so what kind, where, and who should be invited, or not invited. They might even want to specify a poem, music, or reading for the service or gathering.
- Should a ceremony be religious or non-religious?
- Which photo should be displayed? Would they like flowers, if so what kind? Where should the ceremony be held (if they have a preference)?
- Do they have a will? Who is the executor? Do they have a power of attorney document that designates someone to make health decisions for them if they are unable?
- Ask if they would be willing to put a portfolio of important documents together, including financial records (and/or financial adviser contact), property deeds, insurance policies, birth certificate, medical contacts, etc.
How should their remains be handled?
How their remains will be handled can be surprisingly complex as there are many options these days. Many years ago a burial in a coffin at a church or public graveyard was the traditional funeral option. However, it gave way to a binary choice which included cremation, where the body is reduced to ashes. Newer options have become available and are explained below.
Burial: If burial is preferred, find out if they have a particular cemetery in mind. They might want to pre-pay for a grave plot or be buried in a family plot if one exists.
Cremation: This option is where remains are reduced in a furnace and any remnants are reduced to dust (sometimes referred to as ashes) that is then placed in an urn. Do they want the urn kept with the family? Should the ashes be divided among the family? Scattered in one or more locations? Buried in a graveyard or deposited in a graveyard niche?
Aquamation: This is sometimes called liquid cremation. The body is reduced to liquid using an alkaline solution. The result is a non-toxic liquid that is disposed of as wastewater. Bone fragments are also reduced to dust and placed in an urn.
Green funeral: Some people might want green funeral options, where a biodegradable casket or urn is used. The remains are not embalmed. This is called direct cremation and we offer it here at Eirene. Some people opt for a funeral with green elements, to reduce the impact of their end-of-life decisions on the environment.
Pre-arrangements and documentation
Once you have had the necessary conversations with your parents, you will want to have them document all their choices and preferences. This can be assembled into one document that can be notarized and stored with their will in a safe place.
Be sure to offer assistance on the more complicated processes, like pulling together important documents
Many people choose to make pre-arrangements and pre-pay for their funeral, which includes the various funerary services, urn or casket selection, as well as pre-payment for a grave plot or urn niche. Eirene offers pre-arrangement plans. Find out more information here.
Have a question about preplanning a funeral?
Do you have questions? Call us at Eirene and we would be happy to help. Reach us 24/7 at 647-424-3408 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.