On the surface it may seem like an awkward, uncomfortable or even morbid conversation to have, but talking to your parents about their end of life wishes is essential. They are getting older and although it may feel hard to admit, they may only have a few years left here with you.

Time to open up

Having an honest discussion and preplanning for when your parents are no longer around will allow you to grieve properly when they do die, without having to plan their funeral. “Anyone that is unaware of their parents’ wishes is going to be forced into a situation where they have to make decisions that could have been made as a family at a thoughtful time,” explains James Fletcher, Regional Director for Funeral Services at Arbor Memorial.

“It happened to me with the death of my father. He died suddenly and that forced my mom into making decisions that she really hadn’t considered. Nobody even knew if he wanted to be buried or cremated.”

How to start the conversation

A good way to get the ball rolling is to tell your parents that you and your spouse have started discussions about your own estate plans and end of life arrangements. Everybody’s different and some people may be more comfortable talking about their mortality than others, but this a proven way of easing parents into a discussion about funeral plans. “Also, talk about how important it is for you personally to be aware of their wishes on how they want to be honoured,” says Fletcher.

Be prepared for your parent to be flippant about their own death but remind them that their funeral will play a big part in the grieving process and that it gives all loved ones an opportunity to say goodbye. “Remind them that a funeral gives friends and family an opportunity to pay tribute, express loss and to begin their own healing process,” says Fletcher. “This may require a candid conversation, or two or three, over a period of time.”

“A funeral gives friends and family an opportunity to pay tribute, express loss and to begin their own healing process”

The specifics

You should discuss some of the fundamental things of the funeral, like whether or not the final disposition is through burial or cremation, with memorialization in a cemetery afterwards. “Those are important decisions,” says Fletcher. “There are people living together who have varying decisions on whether they wish to have cremation or burial. It’s a simple question, but if you don’t know the answer it can be heart wrenching to make that decision without knowing what your parent actually wanted.”

Try to speak about what type of ceremony or service your parent would prefer. “Not everyone wants a religious ceremony,” says Fletcher. “People may want a ceremony that is more reflective of the lifestyle that they lived and hobbies they enjoyed; a ceremony that is more reflective of who they were specifically as a person.”

Document your conversation

Don Clarke, a licensed funeral director and Funeral Home Manager at Glen Oaks Funeral Home & Cemetery in Oakville, says that properly documenting the conversations that you have with your parents is imperative. “You need to document them because not all of your family members are necessarily going to be present for all of the conversations,” says Clarke. “When it’s written down it’s exact, it’s what your parents wanted.”

It’s just as important to then provide that written documentation to a funeral home or a cemetery, who can store the information in a permanent repository. “It doesn’t help if, when the time comes, that document is in the sock drawer and nobody knows where it is.”

The Family Registry kit is also an extremely helpful tool that helps families ensure that all of the important, personal details are documented with full input from your parents.

Don’t waste any more time

It’s not a conversation that most of us are going to feel comfortable opening, but, in the long-term, it makes much more sense to start that conversation today rather than wait until it may be too late.

“Somebody has to start that conversation, one person has to take that step forward,” says Clarke. “Your parents have looked after you for all of your life and by participating in this discussion they’re really looking after you even after they’ve gone.”