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Planning a funeral at the holiday dinner table

Holiday dinner conversations usually center on exciting events over the past year and what people are looking forward to in the coming months. But having everyone together also presents an opportunity to have important conversations with loved ones that are best had in person and with everyone present.

Talking about planning a funeral is never comfortable, but it can be made easier by a table full of food and drinks to celebrate the season and unwind. People are feeling nostalgic, and maybe even sentimental. What comes next may be the most-important conversation you’ve had all year. Because we’ve had thousands of conversations with people like you who are just beginning to plan a funeral for themselves or a loved one, we’ve created some downloadable resources that come in handy as you begin this important chat:

“A 21st Century Guide to Green Burials” – This is a helpful resource for planning a funeral for family members  who are passionate about conservation, the environment, and green living.

“Everything You Wanted to Know About THE END But Were Afraid to Ask” -. This guide is perfect for people who have a lot of unanswered questions and want to learn as much as possible.

“Managing Digital Assets Upon Death” – This e-book is great for family members who suddenly find themselves needing to manage the digital footprints of loved one and want guidance.

How to begin the talk

Talking about funeral wishes is not easy, so sometimes people need a little motivation. One thing you can say is, “You can’t have pie until you tell us how you want to die,” says Janice McDermott, director of hospice & palliative care for Home Care, Hospice & Palliative Care Alliance of NH in Concord.

Janice  uses this clever tactic when getting together with her kids and stepchildren each holiday season. They don’t get to have desert until they share their end-of-life wishes and plans, such as advance directives.That means everyone around the holiday dinner table shares their wishes on how they would like “to go.”

Having discussed a loved one wishes with them before they die is emotionally beneficial to those making the final arrangements when the time comes. That said, professional caregivers like Janice understand that getting many people to talk about death is a big challenge.

“I visited a couple in their 90s who lived in Nashua. The husband was dying in the back bedroom. I asked the wife, ‘Have you talked about what he would want for his end-of-life plans?’ ‘No, never,’ was the reply. I thought, ‘Wow,’” Janice said.  She asked another woman whose husband was close to dying, Will it be a relief to not see him living like this?” Janice said the woman replied: “As long as he’s breathing, I want him here.”

Can you relate to either of those conversations? For generations, we’ve been taught to fear or avoid death. But why? It may seem morbid to start talking about “the end” at a big holiday dinner, but chances are it will seem more positive after the ice breaks and people share their wishes. For this reason, the death positive movement is gaining traction as more people are opening up to have these conversations.

You don’t have to start with the heavy funeral pre-planning stuff. Make it light and interactive, and ask questions such as:

  • What is a life lesson you learned that you think would be helpful to pass on to the younger generations of our family?
  • Fill in the blank: I was so proud after I _______ .
  • What is the best advice your parents (or grandparents) ever gave you?
  •  What is the thing you would love people to remember about you ?

This type of talk can become an annual tradition for you and your family. We hope this post provides some food for thought as we gear up for holiday gatherings.

Preplanning your final arrangements ensures that your family understands your final wishes and alleviates a great deal of stress.

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