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How to broach the subject of your funeral with family members

Talking about your funeral with your family is never easy writes guest contributor: Dr Peter Hughes, Psychologist and Broadcaster

The main reason for this is because your family find it difficult to imagine life without you. Even when a terminal diagnosis is confirmed and people enter the last phase of life, the person dying is often more able to deal with this fact that his or her family. The pressure to fight to the end, to keep going, to postpone the inevitable, is immense.

Yet death is a reality for all of us. As the famous essayist, the late Christopher Hitchens, replied when asked how he felt after his diagnosis of terminal cancer at the relatively young age of 60, he replied,

“Well, actually I’m dying…” Then he paused before looking at the questioner and adding, “…and so are you!”

In another famous aside, Hitchens said

“We are all only one breath away from the end” and given the reality of death, isn’t it better to face it head on rather than deny it?

It may be difficult to talk to family members about your funeral but it’s easier than leaving them to second-guess your wishes when you’re no longer there to tell them.

What, then, is the best way to broach the subject with your family?
First, it’s important to say that it isn’t an easy matter to discuss. By starting the conversation in this way, you are acknowledging their feelings and giving them permission to feel uncomfortable. This is particularly important if you are a parent talking to your children because you have been a constant presence throughout their lives.

This leads on to getting them to accept that you’re not always going to be with them. At this point, it’s important you explain why you are having the conversation. It may be that you are just planning ahead and want to let them know your wishes in order to avoid any arguments or disagreements in the future. If, however, you are ill and haven’t told them the true extent of your illness then now is perhaps the best time to broach the subject. Either way, it’s important to be clear about your reasons for wanting to plan your funeral.

Finally, you tell them the kind of funeral you want and your reasons for the choice you have made. This can be a particularly difficult conversation if, for instance, you want a simple, humanist funeral and your family would prefer a more traditional service. If there is a disagreement, repeat your wishes calmly until you have gained as much acceptance as you can. That way, you can be sure the discussion will end amicably and your wishes will be understood clearly.

Broaching the subject of your funeral with your family is difficult but one of the most important conversations you can have. Giving clear guidance about your wishes right now is a priceless gift and once the conversation starts people quickly find themselves talking about how to include favourite things and the special moments they’ve shared.

A direct cremation is a new style of funeral
A new style of funeral, direct cremation, is gaining popularity as more people discover the freedom it offers when it comes to saying goodbye to someone special. A direct cremation takes place in private without a service or any mourners being present. It saves a substantial amount on funeral costs but more importantly, it leaves your family and friends free to remember you in their own way, perhaps getting together at a place that was meaningful for you or just having a party to celebrate your life.

So, if you haven’t planned your funeral and talked to your family about it, perhaps now is the time to do it.

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