While it may be easy to understand the value of planning in advance, in reality, contemplating and talking about dying—whether your own or that of a loved one—can be emotionally distressing, which is why most of us tend to avoid it. Despite potential discomfort, having “the talk” is a necessity.
The conversation on being well prepared for the end of life is one that every family is strongly encouraged to have, whether you are apprising your family of your own arrangements or encouraging a loved one to begin pre-planning. You may wish to include your pre-plan burial arrangements in a more general conversation about your overall estate planning; the location and executor of your will, beneficiary allocations, the location of your important documents, life insurance details and so on.
Choose your timing and consider how you bring up the subject to avoid inadvertently frightening your family. Have the conversation somewhere comfortable and stress-free; this topic is highly emotional, so choose a space that allows for openness while reducing the potential for embarrassment.
Communicate that love and care for your spouse and family is the motivation for having the conversation: “I made these plans to ensure you are not burdened or overwhelmed when I pass away.” If discussing the pre-need plans of a loved one, express your care that their final wishes be honoured, that they receive the full dignity of the Church’s funeral rites, that they be remembered well, and your care about the family’s well-being when and after they die.
When starting the topic, use a gentle approach such as asking: “Have you ever considered where you would like your final resting place to be?” Ease into the details by recalling favourite moments from previous funerals attended, or discussing funeral scenes from movies or literature. Remind them that the funeral Mass can be a significant means of helping the family process their grief, and that good pre-planning will facilitate the process of bereavement. Talk about your own pre-planning as a framework for making their arrangements.
Ask your family about the ways they would like to celebrate and remember you, and then incorporate their wishes into the details of your funeral arrangements. Later on, knowing that you approved of their choices will help to ease the emotional turmoil of their loss.
Make notes of what they tell you and repeat them back—not only to confirm you have an accurate record, but more importantly to emphasize your genuine respect for their wishes. Don’t push too hard; you can pick up the conversation again later on, and you do not want to have your motives called into question by demanding hasty decisions. If you are just beginning your pre-planning, try to involve your family in the process; bring them with you on the cemetery tour and to meetings with your Family Services Advisor.
Emphasize the positive, use the language of revering a life well lived, and be lighthearted if it is suitable in your context. If appropriate, and with the approval of all involved, consider inviting your parish priest to participate in the conversation. Remember that pre-planning will not be done in one day; the goal is to initiate a process that will take some time to properly complete.
Accomplishing the important task of talking about pre-arranging one’s burial, funeral and estate helps to provide peace of mind in the present, and will significantly diminish the anxiety and strain that comes from making numerous decisions at the time of loss.