The Secret to Better Pre-Need Funeral Planning Conversations

Posted January 17, 2018

5 min read

For years, the question many funeral directors have been asking during pre-need funeral planning has been: “What do you want?” The intention is to allow a family member to share their wishes and to hear about what they envision with their farewell experience.

Despite these good intentions, there’s often a better way to approach families during pre-need arrangements.

“In today’s world, many times the consumer doesn’t know what they want,” says Todd Borek, Funeral Director, President and Co-Owner at Borek Jennings Funeral Home. (Borek Jennings Funeral Home provides funeral, memorial, personalization, aftercare, pre-planning, and cremation services throughout Hamburg, Howell, Brooklyn and Manchester, Michigan.)

“And so, when they are at a funeral home that asks that question, they might have an idea and say, ‘Well, I want to be cremated.’”

“Said another way, asking the question that way requires the pre-arranging individual to think about what they typically think about first,” explains Borek. “And that means they tend to think about disposition-such as, ‘I want to be cremated,’” says Borek.

While that’s not wrong, and in many ways still helps families to plan, this approach can limit the planning, and it can handcuff the survivors, explains Borek.

We spoke further with Borek about his firm’s approach to pre-planning as a part of a larger conversation about how his firm uniquely helps families throughout their farewell and grieving experiences. Here is part of what we learned about a better way to approach pre-planning.

Borek Jennings Funeral Home: A Healing Farewell Center

In his book, When We Must Say Farewell, Karl Jennings (Co-Owner of Borek Jennings Funeral Home) writes, “In the end, your death doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to anyone who has ever cared for, loved, or shared life with you.”

That directly relates to the firm’s core mission. “This is our focus: to help the living successfully navigate the Acute Loss Period, the time between death and the onset of grief,” explains Borek.

Because of this clear mission, decisions for families are not just about burial or cremation.

Rather, Borek Jennings recognizes how a families’ most important decisions will be based on fully understanding how their choices impact the emotional, relational, and spiritual well-being of survivors.

A Better Way to Begin the Pre-Planning Dialogue

Part of why directors at Borek Jennings don’t ask “What do you want?” when a family is making advance arrangements is because it tends to limit the dialogue.

Here’s an example Borek uses to explain: Imagine that a director were to ask a family member, “What do you want?” Or, imagine that they simply say, “Let’s get your final wishes on paper.”

The challenge is that then a family member’s thought process tends to stay on that track.

That individual may say, “I just want to be directly cremated and have no service.” As a result, the family will later come in and say, “Mom just wants to be cremated and she didn’t want to have a service, so we are not going to do one,” despite how that family may have wanted a service to celebrate their mother.

Helping Families Begin Healing

Directors at Borek Jennings ask a more powerful question: “How will your choices care for the needs of your family?” Or, said another way, they ask: “What will your family need the day you die?”

“How we approach the family is not to ask what they want,” explains Borek. “It’s so beneficial because it completely re-orients their mind to the survivors, and to their loved ones.”

If you’re able to re-frame the conversation with a family member to consider their loved ones, the conversation can be much more beneficial for all involved, says Borek.

In summary, here are 3 key points when intentionally shifting the conversation with the families you serve:

  1. Make sure the person planning ahead knows the goal of advance planning. That includes making sure the survivors’ needs are met, that they will be cared for, and that all decisions will foster a healthy grieving experience.

  2. Ask the question, “What does the family need at the time of loss?” Asking this question helps to re-frame the conversation with families. This powerful shift in conversation will ultimately help survivors, when the time comes.

  3. Aim to avoid declarative statements. Aim for a dialogue that can help provide valuable information for the surviving family. A “good plan” helps families identify survivors’ needs and it helps them make decisions that will meet those needs and is consistent with their values, says Borek.

Asking the Important Questions

All in all, this approach has allowed Borek Jennings to speak a whole new conversation with their families-both the pre-need family and the surviving family. “We’ve spent the better part of around 15 years doing this. With this approach, we are able to ask them the really important questions,” says Borek.

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Find out more about how CRäKN can help you streamline your operations, prevent errors, and save time at your funeral home.

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