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Preparing for an Uncomfortable Conversation: How to Talk to Your Kids about Funeral Arrangements

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Death is a fact of life, an event that will happen to all of us eventually. But just because it’s one of the few things that’s universally occurring, doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. When death happens, it means losing a person very dear to us and learning how to live life without them being a physical part of our lives anymore. However, what can make the grieving process unnecessarily difficult is not being prepared for it, as nobody wants to endure puzzling out the deceased’s wishes while simultaneously feeling the rawness of fresh grief. It’s a lot easier to talk to your children well before anything happens, no matter how uncomfortable you or they may be feeling about it.

Start off with the Basics First

It can be a little overwhelming for your children if you start rattling off exactly how you want your funeral to happen, right down to where the bouquets of gardenias should go. Try not to bombard them with too many details right off the bat, and ease into gently. The conversation will be a reminder that one day you won’t be around to love and help them, and it’s a sobering realization.

Say something like, “Kate, I wanted to share my thoughts with you about how I’d like my funeral to be. Do you have a minute to talk generally about it?” There’s no guarantee your children will be comfortable talking about it, but only very gently push the topic and outline the basic form first. And if your children just plain don’t want to delve into funeral talk, then back off; you can’t force them, and risk anything you say falling on deaf ears.

Outline Your Thoughts

Everyone has a different idea of what they want their own funeral to look like, whether it’s a solemn occasion in a church or a party filled with balloons and bright colors. After all, your funeral will be when your loved ones say goodbye to you for the last time, and you’ll want them to remember you how you were.

Start off by discussing general themes, like formal or casual, venues, burial grounds, and who you want to speak at your funeral. Common choices include having it at either a church or funeral home, but it’s still a good idea to let your kids know what you have in mind.

Iron out Housing and Financial Details

It’s an unfortunate fact of aging that as we get older, our bodies begin to break down. For some of us, this means we’ll need assistance from others, while some seniors get by with the luck of the draw. Whatever your case may be, it’s a good idea to go over this with your children so they know where you want to live if that day ever comes. Plus, if you’ve decided to move into an assisted living community or nursing home when you feel you can no longer age in place, your children will be able to discuss with the staff what your funeral wishes are so the staff don’t have to guess at what you wanted.

Part of this also includes finances, as funerals tend to be a bit on the pricey side. It’s best if you can start saving up for this, as you don’t want to saddle your children with a huge bill while they’re newly grieving your loss. Some things to talk to them about are your wishes about being buried in a casket versus cremated, floral arrangements for both your funeral and burial, post-funeral luncheon, paying for a priest or other official, and renting limos for the procession. The costs can add up quickly, so reassure your children you have a plan in place.

Get into the Nitty-Gritty Details

As you’ve been building up in depth about talking about your funeral arrangements, you’ve been getting your kids slowly used to the idea of that one day in the future. Now that you’ve established a solid foundation, it’s time to work out the final details, like what kind of flowers you want, the music to be played, and other details.

This is also the time when you can share with your kids who’s been named executor of your estate, how you plan to divvy up your belongings, and other information in your will. But be careful of how you navigate this one, as children may feel hurt or slighted to learn how you’ve planned your will. The decisions are completely up to you, of course, but it may be worthwhile to ask your children what belongings of yours they would like. For example, one may want your jewelry not because it’s of any monetary value, but because they’ll find comfort in remembering when you wore them. For larger things, like property or assets, it’s a good idea to consult a lawyer to go over the legalities of disbursing your belongings in a will.

The topic of your funeral arrangements is never an easy one to navigate, but it’s important to dive into it as soon as possible so you have as much time on your side as possible. And by thinking about what you’re going to say ahead of time, you’ll find the conversation may be a lot less uncomfortable than you initially thought.