Last updated 29th November 2019
8 min read
How to talk about death and funeral planning
Don’t avoid talking about funeral arrangements for you or a loved one
You might struggle to bring it up in conversation or avoid the topic, but it’s important to talk about death and funeral planning with your loved ones.
Whether you’re unsure where to start, what to say, or looking for help with planning, this article covers everything you need to know.
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Why is it important to talk about death and funerals?
Our recent report on funeral costs found that less than 1% of people know all their loved one’s funeral preferences.
Only two in five are sure whether their partner would like a religious or non-religious ceremony, and just over half know if they’d want a burial or cremation.
We all think we know those closest, but in reality most of us are unsure about the send-off our loved ones would really like.
Talking about what sort of funeral you’d like is the only way to be sure your family and friends know what to plan. Whatever your age, it’s never too early to start the conversation about death and funerals.
It might not be a comfortable topic of conversation, but it really will help to chat about what you or your loved ones want.
Whether you know exactly what kind of funeral you’d like, or you don’t mind what happens, your loved ones will want to do right by you all the same.
But, if you’re not ready to talk about it, why not write down your thoughts somewhere instead? Then when you the time’s right, our simple tips could help you start the difficult conversation.
Tips for starting the difficult conversation
The thought of talking about your funeral, or a family member’s funeral can be scary and easy to avoid. Still, it’s an important discussion you need to have with your family.
Sometimes it can be difficult finding the right moment, though, so we have some suggestions:
Talk it through over a cup of tea
While it’s an important topic, discussing your funeral plans in a relaxed and informal setting can make your loved ones more comfortable and open to asking questions.
Gather your adult children together
According to research, a quarter of over 75s avoid discussing their funeral for fear of their adult children feeling uncomfortable.
However, while it’s a hard reality to face up to, talking openly about funeral planning will make things a lot easier for your family when the time does come.
Begin with your basic wishes
Start the conversation with some simple preferences, such as whether you’d like a cremation or burial. Rather than giving your loved ones too much at once, ease into the talk and a discussion will follow.
Now we’ve given you some tips to start the conversation, let’s explore what you might want to talk about.
Talking about your own death or funeral
What you might want to talk about
When talking about or documenting your wishes with your family, make it a little easier by deciding what kind of funeral you’d like, first. This is important and gives your loved ones a starting point to work from.
- Would you like a burial, standard cremation, or direct cremation (no ceremony)?
- Do you want a religious or non-religious funeral?
- How do you feel about having a wake?
Once the most important aspects of your funeral are decided, it’s up to you what happens next.
If you have no strong feelings, make it clear the rest of the ceremony is up to those planning and they’re free to do what they feel is right at the time.
However, if you’d like to plan a funeral that further reflects your character, consider:
- Do any funeral songs or hymns have special meaning to you? If not, you could draw inspiration from our funeral song generator.
- Are there any nice or funny stories or life events you'd like mentioning in you eulogy?
- Would you rather have a traditional funeral or a celebration of your life?
- Are there any words or funeral poems that you hold dear?
- Do you want to be remembered with a memorial?
- Where would you like your funeral to take place?
- Where would you like your ashes to be scattered?
How to approach the chat
There’s no right or wrong way to talk about your funeral plans. Starting the conversation is probably the hardest part. Once it’s been raised, your family may begin to feel comfortable talking about your death and funeral.
You should approach it in the way that’s most comfortable for you and those around you, so find a moment free of stress or tension.
To ease your family into the conversation, consider talking about:
- The funeral arrangements chosen by someone you know.
- A funeral you've attended.
- A funeral you've seen on TV or the news.
Or, if you prefer a more straightforward, frank approach, sit everyone down and explain the situation and its importance. Let them ask questions, ask if they’ve considered their own plans, and share your thoughts openly.
If you’ve been ill, your family may have been expecting the chat, and even wanted to bring it up themselves. If you’re healthy, reassure your loved ones that planning your funeral now will make things easier for them down the line.
How to document your funeral requests
You might have decided on the kind of funeral you’d like and even discussed some plans with your family, but it’s important to document your thinking. This will make it easier for everyone who’s grieving when the time comes.
If you’re not sure where to start:
- Consider how your funeral might be paid for. Are you going to leave a contribution towards the cost yourself? Do you have a funeral plan or over 50 life insurance in place?
- Record your funeral wishes, whether in your will or as part of a funeral plan. Our perfect send-off planner can be used to help you document your wishes, keeping them safe and ready for when they’re needed.
- Make sure to store your requests somewhere safe and tell someone where they are. When it comes to arranging a funeral, your loved ones can find your final wishes.
We’ve discussed talking about your own death and funeral, but how do you talk to someone who’s dying? It’s hard, so we’re here to help you start that conversation.
Talking to someone who is dying
While it can be difficult and feel awkward, talking with a dying loved one about their funeral plans and finances is important. It can actually help give them peace of mind during their final days.
If they’re not worrying about their affairs, they can better enjoy those last moments with loved ones and family. It will also help you to know your following their final wishes.
What to say to someone who is dying?
When talking with an ill or dying loved one, you’re both aware of the situation so be compassionate. As sad as it may be, and no matter how hard you’re trying to avoid facing the reality, approach any conversations openly.
The funeral isn’t the only thing you need to consider when someone dies, and there are important matters to discuss before it’s too late.
Have you considered any future medical care and where it’s going to take place?
Are you going to pay for care or look after your loved one as a family?
It’s also important to sort out any finances and unpaid bills, as well as any online accounts before your loved one passes away. The last thing you need when you’re grieving is sorting out documents and settling unpaid bills.
Lastly, discuss with your loved one setting up a lasting power of attorney, which gives you authority to make decisions on their behalf. This lets you act in their interest when it comes to financial or welfare matters if they’re not able to make decisions themselves.
Asking about their funeral wishes
Discussing funeral requests is even more difficult when you know it’s in the near future. Be prepared that you may both become emotional and upset, which is normal and expected.
All you can do is try and make the conversation as comfortable as possible for your loved one. Gather their thoughts and gently ask simple questions that might help you do right by them.
Some things you might want to consider discussing are:
- Burial or cremation – some people can feel strongly about the type of funeral they’d like
- Whether it should be a traditional funeral or a celebration of life
- Funeral songs and/or hymns
- Any words or funeral poems they like
- What type of wake they might prefer
- Funeral location – would they like a church service after the funeral?
- Location for burying or scattering ashes
- Dress code – traditional black or colourful
There are many ways a funeral can be made more personal to the individual. And it’s quite common for someone who is dying to add a personal touch to their funeral.
Talking to children about death
Death and funerals are tricky topics to talk about with children. Explaining why they won’t be able to see their relative anymore can be difficult, especially if it’s someone they were close to.
Many children won’t have experienced anything like grief before, so it can be hard for them to understand. Be prepared to comfort their tears and spend time explaining why their loved one won’t be coming back.
Should children go to a funeral?
Each situation is different, and a child’s relationship with the deceased will vary, so there’s no right answer unfortunately.
If you’re not sure, it might be useful to talk to other family members to see what they think. You can also reach out to friends who have organised or been to funerals with children there.
When deciding whether to have children, consider their age, maturity and understanding.
Will they understand what’s happening? Will you be able to hold it together if they get upset?
Whatever you decide, spend time explaining to the child what will happen at the funeral so they know what to expect.
Where to get help talking about death or funeral planning?
Discussing your funeral may feel daunting, but it’s a kind and compassionate thing to do for your loved ones. Discover how you can start saving for your funeral or find out more about the steps to planning a funeral.
For more information and advice:
- Child Bereavement UK have advice about talking to a child about death
- Marie Curie have a confidential online chat line if you want to talk about someone who is dying
- Independent Age have a guide on planning for end of life
It’s not always easy to know how to talk about dying and funerals, but planning ahead will give you and your family one less thing to worry about.