I am at a stage in life when I am losing grandparents and some of my older friends. Many of my parent’s peers are getting sick and dying. I even have friends my age that are getting sick and dying. It stinks. But a couple of recent experiences have encouraged me to share what I have learned with you.
First, no matter what, death is sad. I believe in heaven and an amazing God, but I still mourn the loss of companionship and shared time when someone I love dies. I try really hard to be more positive, but it does not seem to happen. I cry. And I cry some more. And I buy some more Kleenex and cry some more. It is just the way I am.
Second, death is hard whether it is a surprise or has been obviously coming for some time. It can bring a sense of relief, but it can also bring with it increased stress, trauma, guilt, physical and emotional effects.
Third, trying to make decisions in the shadow of death can be difficult for even the strongest person. There are a whole host of things that have to take place once someone has died. And yet, the person who has died can leave a gift for the people left behind to make those decisions. I want to share two completely different experiences with you and encourage you to take some action.
I recently experienced the death of someone who did not want to think about or talk about their death. He was up in years and knew that it would happen eventually. But, in his family, you just did not talk about things like death. So, when he did die, rather suddenly, we were left to make a myriad number of decisions without knowing what he would have wanted. The only thing that had been done in advance was his will, but even that had not been updated recently. It was exhausting and left room for arguments and frustration to create an emotional chasm between family members. No one knew what he would have wanted and everyone had their own opinions. You can’t please everyone all the time, especially when they are emotionally and physically fatigued.
In another case, the woman had made decisions about (and prepaid for) everything that would need to happen following her death. (She had no idea when she would die, but wanted to be prepared.) Her burial plot and headstone were chosen and paid for. Her burial wishes were written down. The funeral was planned and money was in a trust account to cover all the expenses. Her will was written and updated. She had written her obituary as much as possible, left requests regarding her funeral songs, Scriptures, pall bearers, etc. She even had made requests for which kind of flowers to order. So, when she died, all we had to do was touch up her obituary, reserve the church building, call the musicians and the pastor and order flowers. It was so nice to not have to make a thousand decisions all in a short time period.
I want to encourage you to think about this subject and talk about it with your spouse, family, etc. If that is uncomfortable, then put it all in writing and simply tell them, “My requests are written down and stored HERE.”
Here are a few things to think about as you work to get your plan in place.
- How do you want your family to handle your remains? Do you want to be cremated or buried?
- Where do you want to be buried? If you want to be cremated, do you want your ashes scattered or buried? Where? Do you want to be added to or begin a family burial area?
- Do you want a headstone? What do you want written on your headstone? Do you want a double headstone to include your spouse?
- Do you want a funeral with or without a viewing? Do you want a memorial or graveside service? Do you want something simple, traditional or elaborate?
- What kind of music do you want to have played? Do you want specific Scriptures, poems or quotations read aloud? Do you want to write a letter to have read aloud during the service?
- Do you want people to be free to share memories and eulogize you? Do you want a specific message shared by the person leading the service?
- Have you written a letter to have read aloud at your service?
- Do you have a favorite picture (or several) of yourself that you would like to have on display?
- Do you have favorite flowers or plants you would like to have as decorations, memorials, etc.?
- Do you know people you would like to have as your pallbearers? Create a long list, if you can, as some may be unavailable for various reasons.
- Do you have a place where you would like people to send monetary memorials?
- Are there things that you DEFINITELY don’t want to happen?
- Possibly most importantly, do you have a will? Is it updated? Is it notarized? Does your family know where it is stored?
I encourage you to do some planning and thinking in advance. It will save so much stress, heart ache and frustration for your family. Death is not an easy thing to talk about, but it will happen. Because, as they say, there are only two things in life that we can count on: death and taxes.