I received an email the other day from a lady that wanted to know if there were any tips that I might have on how to further the death talk with her mom and dad. Identifying burial or cremation, or what types of services they would want – memorial, funeral, visitation, etc.  You know the conversation… that one that goes:

“Hey mom, dad… you aren’t super young anymore, you wanna be cremated or buried?”

“What’s wrong with you? We’re not talkn’ about that. Neither one of us care and we don’t want to discuss it. Let’s get in the car, we gotta get to Applebee’s before happy hour’s over.”

It isn’t an easy talk for most families. It gets downright unavoidable when you start working in a funeral home, or you decide you’re going to own one, but I don’t figure many of you are going to those lengths to create a healthy line of communication with your family.

The conversation about death with your parents is one of the most difficult ones that we have.  Confronting it is equally as uncomfortable as the discussion that they threw at us when we were 12 or 13.  You’re pretty fortunate if they have put the task to your hands without a passive/aggressive undertone. Let’s face it: The discussion doesn’t matter much when it’s the arrangements for the second one to go, but what happens when you lose one parent and you’re left to handle it while the living parent is required to authorize the arrangements?
Framing a discussion around the regulation and control is an unemotional place to start.  Parents may not want to talk about it, but it’s pretty tough to argue with regulations (if you’re an attorney type, throw RCW 68.50,160 at them. That’s always fun).  The spouse of the deceased needs to authorize the cremation or burial, so if these conversations aren’t had, they can be very traumatic when it comes down to the reality of making a decision and authorizing it without that person you spent 50 years with weighing in on it.
Sometimes humor can help: “Hey ma, dad; you guys planning on getting a divorce?…. Alright then, can we just decide the burial/cremation debate before one of you dies then, because I just talked to a funeral director that said one of you is going to be making that decision on short notice when the time comes.”  Now, I’m not going to sully this discussion with Power of Attorney and pre-arrangements.  The point isn’t the functional execution of the arrangements, it’s the communication within your family.
If regulations or humor don’t work, then sometimes an appeal for them to help you, so that you aren’t completely burdened at the time of death, will work.  Those people are hard wired to want to help you, so often, a request for their assistance will spark a dialogue.  If you have the burial/cremation discussion out of the way and you know what one they want, sometimes dividing and conquering is the way to go. Asking mom what she would like to do for dad in the way of funeral or memorial services when he goes will gain some insight as to what level of ceremony will give her a sense of healing or closure. I would suggest writing down what they say though.  When you lose them, your memory gets pretty foggy in those days surrounding their passing. Notes are incredibly helpful.

If none of these work, call me and we’ll game plan how we can get them to talk…