Not sure how to have a difficult conversation with someone you love regarding end-of-life issues? Discussing death and future burial arrangements can be challenging and uncomfortable for family members. How do you even start these conversations with your loved one? What will they think? Will they start to panic and think there is something wrong, or worse avoid the topic completely?
It is never easy to communicate about end-of-life planning. You have heard it a million times, however communication is truly key in these situations. While there’s no perfect time to talk about death, the sooner you start the dialogue, the more comfortable you’ll get talking about taking on major life decisions. Eventually, your family will become more comfortable communicating about this process, your end-of-life planning and considerations.
What to Consider Before Starting a Difficult Conversation
Initiating these end-of-life planning conversations should begin well before an aging or terminally ill person can no longer make their own plans/decisions.
If you are the one planning, consider these questions and how you want to address them with your loved ones:
- Will my family be taken care of?
- Is my will up-to-date?
- What are my wishes for end-of-life medical care?
- Where are my end-of-life documents stored?
- Who will look after my pets?
- Who should be included in my care decisions?
- Do I want a traditional burial or to be cremated?
- How would I like to eternally rest?
- Do I have an estate plan finalized?
The best thing to know when planning to have a conversation about these topics with your family members, is that not everyone is comfortable openly talking about mortality. Make sure you approach each conversation with empathy and understanding of the other person’s emotions. The more patience, compassion, and understanding you offer, the better things will go for everyone.
How to have a Difficult Conversation with Someone you Love about Death and Mortality
The following are some ways of introducing these conversations with less resistance from your loved ones:
Begin the conversation about something small
Dropping the “D” word without proper consideration for your family’s feelings will not end well. Instead of jumping right in, start small. If you immediately tell your loved ones that you have purchased a burial plot or have met with a funeral director for future planning, their immediate reaction may be shocking. They may even believe there is something wrong with your health, or that you are keeping something from them.
It is best to introduce the topic by explaining that you are working on getting different affairs in order for the far future. For example, you are handling future plans across the board like establishing a life insurance policy, safety deposit boxes, and other planning. Most people have life policies in place early on in life, so using it as a conversation opener for more difficult conversations is key. Introducing death and dying in small, digestible chunks can make the conversation more palatable and less likely to turn your loved one away from it.
Hold many conversations
The discussion of death, even if it is far from the near future, can be overwhelming and heavy. It is best to have these difficult conversations in chunks, instead of discussing every end-of-life prep topic in one moment.
Being honest and sticking to the facts, while allowing your family member to communicate their emotions about your planning is healthy. It is important for you to hold an open-ended dialogue that continues into more than one sitting. In addition, making tough decisions can be emotionally taxing, causing them to shut down. So, make sure you are not overwhelming them and express that you will pick back up on the topic later.
Sometimes, knowing ahead of time what to expect can help them better prepare for your discussions.
Ways to Talk About End-of-Life Planning with Loved Ones
Communicate effectively. The way you frame your conversation can impact how your loved ones accept and react to your attempts to get these discussions going.
Contacting a professional to help you can also be beneficial. In most cases, hearing from a professional takes a lot of emotions out of the process. For example, setting an appointment with a funeral home to talk about options with your loved ones is an effective approach to holding difficult end-of-life conversations.
You can also, use examples of friends or relatives who had significant issues or struggles due to poor planning. Talk about the consequences and how they could have been avoided.
Here are some topics you may want to establish with your loved ones:
- Where you want to live if independent living is no longer an option
- What is to happen with your personal belongings
- Your end-of-life plans: funeral service plans, burial/cremations plans with a final resting place defined
- Establish life insurance policies
- Property Power of Attorney
- Health Care Power of Attorney
- HIPAA Authorizations
- Advanced Directives & Living Will
- Out of Hospital DNR
Read more about pre-planning a funeral.
What if the conversations aren’t productive?
Having these discussions may create conflict no matter how careful you are. People may feel attacked, so they display emotions of anger or sadness. These reactions are all very human. If the conversation goes south, take a break and reconvene later.
What are the best/worst times to have difficult conversations?
There is never a perfect time to have to talk about end-of-life planning. The best time to have hard conversations with a loved one is before you need to. Start planting these talks ahead of time.
The worst time to have a difficult conversation is in the middle of a crisis when things need to be decided on right then and there. Hasty decision-making tends to make things more stressful for everyone. However, try to talk in a safe space where there are few distractions like small children. Make sure the person you are speaking with is in a good mental place to handle the conversation in a mature, productive manner.
Take advantage of times when the family is together
Some families do not live in close proximity but get together for special times or holidays during the year. Take advantage of those times. This way, everyone can be on the same page and know your wishes. This eliminates future stress and improves overall family communication.
Some good times that family is already gathered:
- The Holidays
- Family Reunions
- A Family Dinner
Be intentional about the best time to have this conversation when the family is gathered. Be open with everyone. Know that you can keep it simple.
Ultimately, we can’t bear the thought of losing someone we love, yet we know that no one lives forever. The importance of having deep and meaningful end-of-life conversations is so your family does not have to stress after you have passed, they are already going to deal with tremendous grief. Proper planning can save you and your loved ones lots of heartache, money, and regret. Now hopefully, you have learned how to have a difficult conversation with someone you love about end-of-life planning.
If you are ready to start end-of-life planning, a member of the Coastal Funeral Center team can assist you and your family. Contact us online or give us a call at (310) 326-6343.
About Coastal Funeral Center
At Coastal Funeral Center, we are committed to being dedicated guardians of family and community, while holding on to the legacy we established as a family-owned funeral home. Originally A.M Gamby Funeral Home, Coastal Funeral Center joined Green Hills Memorial Park in 2018 to better serve the community of the South Bay and Palos Verdes Peninsula. During this transition, we expanded our services as an all-inclusive facility and built on the successes of Green Hills Memorial Park. We’re proud of our legacy of personal service and our deep roots in the community, which we’ve been part of for more than 80 years. We provide customized funeral service options that meet your financial needs and honor your loved one like the beautiful individual they were. To learn more, visit https://coastalfuneralcenter.com/about/