When you type “burial options” or “how I want to be buried” into a search engine a plethora of sites pop up relating to specific funeral companies. What I notice is a lack of personal stories written about it. Death as we know, isn’t one of the hot topics that gets tossed around when we gather socially with friends and family, so talking about funerals, burials and final wishes with your parents or elderly loved ones is even lower down the totem pole.
This is where we are doing ourselves and our loved ones a disservice. When death, burial, funeral arrangements are spoken about, written, recorded via video or audio, your parents get to choose a little of the narrative on their ending. Leaving these conversations to their death beds (when they are not in the clearest frame of mind) shouldn’t be the default. On occasions when people become incapacitated and unable to choose for themselves, these important decisions are left to their grieving, loved ones (us) which makes the process harder.
For some, burials are already predetermined based on their faith. For example, the cremation of the body is strictly forbidden in Islam. In Islamic law (Sharia) burial of the body should occur as soon as possible, preceded by a simple ritual involving bathing and shrouding the body followed by prayer. This differs from the Buddhism faith, where Buddhists believe that cremation is an important ceremony for releasing the soul from the physical form.
Whether your parents have strong religious ties or no religious beliefs their preference on how they wish their final instructions be carried out should be discussed. I also want to preface this by saying their end-of-life decisions should be documented and shared among their loved ones. These include, life support, administering resuscitation, comfort care etc. I will be covering this a little more in another article.
To help start talking about funerals, burials and final wishes with your parents here are some areas that you might want to discuss:
- Types of burial – cremation, traditional coffin burial, eco-friendly burials such as turning the body into soil (local laws do differ) or Cryonics
- Donation to Science – Perhaps burial isn’t what they want but rather donating their body to science is. The option of whole-body donation offers not only a way to contribute to the world of medicine, but to reduce funeral costs.
- Funeral arrangements – When I lost a dear friend many years ago, his funeral was marked as a day of celebrating his zest of life. Despite the sadness, there was colour, lots of music (a live DJ!) and many laughs. It was how he had lived life and how he wanted to be remembered. This is where you may wish to discuss specific songs or readings that they want included in their final send off. Perhaps your mother hates the colour black, so the last thing she might want is everyone wearing it to their service.
- End of life decisions (as mentioned above)
In my opinion, the more open we are about discussing death and the surrounding topics like burials and funerals, the less scary and daunting it all feels.
To ease into a discussion with your parents, I’d suggest bringing up that you are documenting your own funeral and final arrangements wishes in your living will and that the reason is to ensure that the difficult choices have been made and requested when you are healthy, and sound minded rather than leave it to the surviving loved ones to have to decide and choose.
Some useful links
Carers’ Circle article on talking about death – https://carerscircle.com.au/2020/10/16/learning-to-talk-about-death-intro/
A great general article about things to consider when you’re going to have a difficult conversation with your ageing parents – https://www.workingdaughter.com/how-to-initiate-difficult-conversations-with-your-aging-parents/
Information on arranging a burial for your loved one and the costs involved – https://www.funeralguide.net/help-resources/arranging-a-funeral/funeral-guides
An explanation of what a living will is and an overview of the differing laws that govern them in each state and territory in Australia – https://legalvision.com.au/what-is-a-living-will/
Information about the body donor program at Sydney University if you or your parent wants to donate their body to science. This page includes a link to other university programs outside of Sydney in the FAQ section – https://www.sydney.edu.au/medicine-health/schools/school-of-medical-sciences/discipline-of-anatomy-and-histology/body-donations.html
CHOICE Magazine review of various ‘do it yourself’ will kits including links to the products – https://www.choice.com.au/money/financial-planning-and-investing/financial-planning/articles/will-kit-reviews