Death and Holiday Dinner?
The holidays may be the only time during the year when we get together with our families, so if you’re hoping to have a needed conversation about end of life planning with your parents or other family members or loved ones, it can be a good time. The key is to start the conversation gently and to keep it on the lighter side. Here are some tips.
How can you start the conversation about planning for end of life wishes? Try one of these two approaches:
Make it a group activity
Sometimes having a one-on-one convo about something that feels taboo or emotional can be difficult. You don’t want to upset the other person—or yourself! A group conversation can be fascinating and even delightful, as folks discover each other in new and important ways. Tell your friends you just saw a new website all about “Farewelling,” and pose a question or two as an activity for the group around the kitchen island or over dessert. You could even write up some cards and put them in the center of the table. And it doesn’t have to be morose—the idea is to create a jumping off point that will be entertaining and convivial.
We suggest focusing on a lighter-hearted aspect as an opener to get folks talking. For example, you could mention this episode of Farewelling: The Podcast, where we asked comedian Sarah Cooper what music would be on her “farewelling playlist” at a funeral in her honor. You could even stream her playlist (it’s awesome!) while the food prep is going on. Then ask, “What would be on your playlist?” and take turns going around the table or group. You could also ask what folks think about eco-friendly funerals (also known as green funerals) or if they think it’s okay to laugh at a funeral or memorial service or to serve cocktails. These are easy openers that may lead to deeper discussions.
The idea is simply to get folks thinking just a little bit more about something very personal and important. The more you know about your family’s wishes—and the more they know about yours—the better for all concerned! If you like, you can even download and print out copies of the free Farewelling Worksheet, put them in cute folders with stickers or bows, and give them out as meaningful, thought-provoking and “viral” holiday gifts.
If you want to do something more structured, check out the Death over Dinner website. Start by printing out their “script,” then make a date for this “event,” with a potluck—or cocktail!—theme. We promise, you’ll learn things you never knew!
If a one-on-one conversation is better, here’s how to bring it up
Clearly, you know the person you’ll be talking to better than we do, and if you sense they may not be receptive to your bringing up the topic of final wishes or funeral plans, it might be a good idea to start with a simple observation that relates to pop culture (“Oh my gosh, did you read a while back that that actor Luke Perry was buried in a suit made of mushrooms? What do you think of an eco-friendly funeral?”) or to literature, for example.
“The other day I read the most beautiful quote from the poet Rumi. I think I’d like that read at my farewelling someday—I assume you’d want something from the church?”
The idea is that a smaller, softer question can open the conversation around death and dying in a more gentle, palatable way that can lead to a deeper discussion, and it won’t feel like you’re overwhelming them.
What not to do
Ideally, don't bring the topic up if people have been drinking a whole lot. Don't judge. If you're really into green funerals and your grandmother wants to be embalmed, respect her choice. And if you don't get a warm reception to the conversation, just let it go for the moment. Sometimes it takes a few attempts to open a difficult subject.
You can download the amazing (and free!) Farewelling Worksheet here. There’s one for yourself and one for if you’ll be helping someone else plan. Whatever your approach, let us know on social media @myfarewelling. We’d love to hear what you think!