How to talk about the heavy stuff: serious illness, death, funeral planning

While serious illness, death, and funeral planning are hardly regular dinner-table conversation, the sooner you can tackle the difficult conversations, the greater the chances of feeling better for it.

New research from leading direct life insurance company Insuranceline  found 96% of Australians admit to holding off on having uncomfortable conversations despite 80% experiencing a sense of relief after tackling challenging conversations.

That’s why Insuranceline, together with psychologist Jacqui Manning, have developed a guide to help those who have found initiating these conversations with others challenging, to give people greater comfort and confidence and make the experience a little easier.

1. The Double P’s: Plan and prepare 

Planning and preparing for a conversation around serious illness, death, and funeral planning can go a long way towards building confidence to initiate the chat. Start by giving the other person a heads up that you want to make time to talk, rather than springing the conversation on them, and try to frame the discussion in a positive or neutral light. 

Run through the scenario in your mind beforehand to consider the ‘what ifs’ so you know what to cover off in the conversation. You may benefit from writing down what you want to achieve out of the conversation and having a copy with you will help you both by keeping the conversation on track if any big emotions arise. Reflecting on your own mindset and the intended outcome will put you in the best possible position to tackle the heavy stuff with someone you care about. 

2. Remember to listen carefully 

When talking about topics someone else clearly finds confronting, listening closely and doing so with reflection not only helps you to better connect and understand what that person is saying or feeling, but it can also provide valuable input on how you frame your responses and navigate the conversation. Understanding their point of view by taking a moment to step in their shoes indicates you’ve heard and understood what they’re saying. Also being sensitive and encouraging can help them feel more comfortable and open up further.

Having the conversation somewhere away from distractions – like a blaring television – is another way to keep focused. Also, don’t be alarmed if you don’t get through everything in a single conversation – it may work to take a pause and pick it up another time.

3. Be clear about what you want to achieve 

When it comes to heavy topics like how to plan for serious illness or death, a big part of tackling the conversation with someone you care about is communicating clearly and directly. Insuranceline’s research found that close to half (46%) of Australians admit they’re likely to be emotional and find it difficult to contain emotions when having a conversation on an uncomfortable and confronting topic. 

Try to keep your language simple, clear, direct, and neutral and with purpose. The calmer and more centred you are, the more in control you will feel when handling these conversations. 

4. End the conversation gracefully

When it’s time to end the conversation, take time to reflect on what’s been spoken about, summarise the discussion and try to align on the best plan – it may help to write these notes up.

If offers of support are made, it’s important to follow through with whatever actions you have said you would do. Expressing your willingness and desire to keep the conversation going later is another way to wrap up if it’s the right time. 

Following this guide and having conversations on touchy topics like serious illness or death and making plans for the time when you’re not around or may be unable to work and earn an income, can help people enormously. It means people can deal with the emotional impact knowing that they’re prepared for the impact these life changing events can often bring.

This is general information only. Read the PDS at before purchase. The Target Market Determination is also available here. Promoted by Insuranceline, a trading name of TAL Direct Pty Ltd ABN 39 084 666 017 AFSL 243260. Insurance issued by TAL Life Limited ABN 70 050 109 450 AFSL 237848.