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Planning • 3 min read

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

Guide to initiating the conversations no one wants to have - on serious illness, death, and 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.


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^Insuranceline Win 1 of 5 $1000 Visa Cards (Competition). Subject to the Terms and Conditions, the Promotor is offering customers a chance to win one of five Digital Visa Gift Cards valued at $1,000, in one of the four draws. Entry commences on the 1st of April 2024 and will run for four months until 11:59pm AEST on the 31st of July 2024 (Entry Period). During the Entry Period, to be eligible to participate in the Competition, customers must get a quote and take out a new Insuranceline Life Insurance, Income Protection Insurance, or Funeral Insurance policy to enter the Competition. A maximum of one (1) entry into the Competition will be awarded per eligible policy. The Promotion is not open to existing customers, or customers who have cancelled a Promoter branded policy in the 12 months prior to the commencement of the Entry Period and then taken out a new Insuranceline branded policy. Each of the four Prize Draws will take place at Level 16, 1 Denison Street, North Sydney NSW 2060 on the respective Prize Draw and Time, as listed in the table in Condition 13 (and if any Redraws if there are any unclaimed prizes, Condition 19) of the full Terms and Conditions, and the winners will be sent an email and will be attempted to be notified via phone within two (2) business days of the Draw and published on Max. retail value of the total prize pool is $20,000. To be eligible at time of the draw, customers must still have an active policy and have paid 1 month of premiums in full. View eligibility criteria and full terms and conditions here. Promoter: TAL Direct Pty Limited ABN 39 084 666 017 AFSL 243260. Permits: NSW NTP/09255, ACT TP24/00483, & SA Licence No. T24/388.

**Bonus 10% more cover is calculated on the fifth anniversary from the Policy Commencement Date. Each adult life insured will have an extra 10% of the average Funeral Insurance Cover amount held during the previous five years added to their Funeral Insurance benefit. Terms and conditions apply. Refer to the PDS for more information.

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