How to have an honest discussion about funeral wishes

How to have an honest discussion about funeral wishes
3 min read

We’re all going to die one day: that’s unavoidable. But one thing we do like to avoid (like the plague) is talking about it.

This squeamishness is natural (no one likes to think about their own death, or the death of someone close to them) but it’s also a missed opportunity. A frank talk about this taboo topic can prevent a lot of heartache and indecision later on – and there’s a lot of comfort in being able to arrange a funeral you know would make your loved one proud.

So, how do you broach the subject of funeral wishes with a loved one?

1. Choose your moment

A funeral is a tough subject to face up to on a normal day. So, it’s better if you don’t ask someone about their wishes when they’re stressed or busy. Wait for the right time and the right place. A relaxed moment in a private setting is usually best.

One tactic a lot of people find helpful is to broach the subject while you’re doing something else, like driving or walking or cooking. This gives you an opportunity to ask questions without it seeming too confrontational. How many times have you had a really great chat in the car on the way somewhere?

2. Think about what you’d like to know

Have you ever finished a conversation with someone and walked away, only to remember that there’s something vital that you forgot to ask them? To keep this from happening, it can help to do a bit of prep. Start the conversation with a clear idea of what you’d like to know.

This guide to planning a funeral can help you understand the questions you might be asked by the funeral director and the celebrant when you’re making arrangements. You might already know the answer to some of them, like burial vs. cremation. But things like funeral clothing, or the theme of the service, can be harder to decide without an idea of what your loved one really wanted.

3. Try some gentle questions to get the conversation started

Sometimes, the hardest thing about having a chat about funeral wishes is just getting started. A few gentle questions can help, like:

  • I heard that you went to [name]’s funeral last week – what did you think of the service?

  • I saw [funeral-related topic] on the news the other day. What do you think about…?

  • [Name] was telling me the other day that they’d like [song] to be played at their funeral. Have you ever thought about what you’d like?

  • Do you think we ought to talk about our funeral wishes, just in case one of us passes away?

  • Have you ever thought about what you’d like for your funeral?

Bear in mind that it’s always easier to have this conversation early, when death feels like a far-off possibility. If the friend or family member you’re speaking to is elderly or receiving end-of life care, they may worry that you’re talking to them about this because you’ve lost hope or you feel like their death is imminent – and the conversation can become distressing for you both.

If you are speaking to someone elderly or unwell, it may help to reassure them that you’d just like to be prepared for every eventuality before you start. Organisations like Dying Matters can also help: they offer all kinds of support on talking about end-of-life issues with loved ones.

4. Pay attention

Talking about funeral wishes can be emotionally difficult, even in the abstract. So, it’s important to pay attention to the other person throughout. Listen to the way they talk, and their body language. Are they avoiding your eyes? Do they sound upset?

If they start to seem uncomfortable, drop the subject for now. You don’t have to find out everything at once, and pushing them might make it harder to come back to it later.

5. Write it down

After you’ve had your chat, take a few minutes to write down everything you can remember. Tuck it away for another (hopefully very far-off) day. If you feel like you can, try to encourage your friend or family member to do the same. They can even add instructions on funeral wishes to their will to make things a bit more formal.

If you need help… offer advice on funeral arrangements, wills and estate administration for families who need it – you can call them on 0800 044 9454 or visit their website.