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10 questions to ask your loved one about death and dying

Mother and daughter talking about death

Talking about death is an important first step in planning for the future. Not only does talking about death help us connect with loved ones and share our fears, it is also key to making sure practical matters are dealt with before it is too late.

If you want to talk to your friends or family about their funeral wishes, it can be hard to know where to start. Here are 10 questions that could get the conversation started – or ask yourself these questions to think about what you would want.

1. Do you have a will?

There are many reasons to write a will, including naming executors and beneficiaries of your estate. Ask your loved one if they have a will and if they do, ask where you could find it in the event of their death. Sometimes wills can be lost simply because no one knew where to look for it.

If they don’t have a will, you could discuss the benefits with them. Though many people wait until later life to make a will, doing it sooner rather than later can make sense.

2. Would you want to donate your tissue and organs?

This can be a sensitive question, but it’s vital to know the answer. Tissue and organ donations save lives, but all too often families are unsure of whether their loved one would want to be a donor.

Find out how your loved one feels about tissue and organ donation, or encourage them to sign the organ donor register. In turn, let them know what your thoughts are and whether you have signed the register.

3. Do you have an advance care plan?

An advance care plan allows you to make certain decisions about the care you receive in your final days. You can outline how you want to spend the end of your life, at home or in a hospice, and complete an Advance Health Care Directive form to make legally binding decisions about the care you will receive.

If your loved one does not have an advance care plan, but would like to make one, you should discuss this with their doctor and carers.

4. Do you have a funeral plan?

A pre-paid funeral plan allows you to arrange and pay for a funeral in advance. It reduces the stress and financial pressure of arranging a funeral for the bereaved.

If your loved one has bought a funeral plan, ask them where you would be able to find details of the plan and who the provider is. Likewise, if you have a funeral plan, share the details with your closest loved ones.

5. Would you like to be cremated or buried?

Perhaps one of the most basic choices involved in arranging a funeral, some people have very strong opinions about whether they would want to be buried or cremated.

If they want to be buried, ask where they would ideally like to be their final resting place. If they want to be cremated, find out what they want to happen to the ashes – do they want them to be scattered, kept in an urn, or buried?

6. What do you want your funeral to be like?

This is quite a wide question, but it can really ease the stress of bereavement knowing that your loved one is getting the funeral they wanted. Would they want something sombre and dignified, or joyful and uplifting? Would they prefer flowers or donations, or both? Perhaps they like the idea of alternative transport, such as a motorcycle hearse. They may even have an idea of what they would want their coffin to be like.

If they’re not sure what they want, don’t pressure them to make a decision now. They may come back to you with an answer when they’ve had time to think.

7. What music do you want playing at your funeral?

This is a classic conversation starter, as it focuses on what people enjoy, rather than on death and dying specifically. Many people feel that the music at a funeral can be a powerful way of reflecting a loved one’s personality. What better way to do this than play exactly what they would want?

8. What do you want the wake to be like?

Nowadays people have widely varying opinions on what a wake should be like. Some people would prefer a quiet, intimate occasion where friends and family can share memories. Some people love the idea of a big party in their honour.

9. What do you want to be remembered for?

Talking about death doesn’t have to be just about the practical considerations. Talking about end of life issues can be a way of opening up to your loved ones and sharing your thoughts about life in general.

Asking how they want to be remembered will make both of you think about what is really important to them. This could even be a conversation that brings you comfort once they are gone.

10. If you could tell your great-grandchildren one thing, what would it be?

Ask your loved one what knowledge or words of wisdom they would pass down to future generations. Better yet – encourage them to write it down so their words can actually be kept for the future. If something happens to them, their words will bring you comfort, while future generations will appreciate a meaningful inheritance that goes beyond material things.

For more advice on talking to your loved ones about death, visit the Dying Matters website, where you can view and download information on a wide range of end of life issues.