FACT: Most people don't like talking about death - especially their own.
If actually engaged in a conversation of the topic, most will admit that they are not afraid to be dead, because they have faith tenets that reveal wonderful things on 'the other side'. What most people actually fear is the process of dying: Prolonged illness, pain, gasping for air, being a burden to others, being alone, hooked to machines, and having no control. Living wills, also known as medical directives or advance directives, are legal documents by the patient giving doctors (and family) instructions on how things will happen. But that's in another article.
This piece will deal with what you want done after your death. Most people would rather have a root canal than do this. But, ANYONE WHO CAN READ THIS should have something in writing.
Time and again, as Chaplain and Pastor, I have attended to families after the death of a loved one. Whether expected or a shock, it sends the family reeling. And time and again, the family has had no idea what to do next. The few people that DO have some planning done give a tremendous amount of relief to their family. This is a great gift. Honoring your wishes gives them comfort. They don't have to search high and low looking for clues on the best way to say goodbye. There can be no conflicts if there is something written by you.
I know what you're thinking.
"My family wouldn't argue at a time like this." Understand that any trauma causes people to forget who they are. They don't act like themselves, because this is an unusual situation. Emotions run high. The person you think will be strong turns to jelly. And because of time constraints, there is pressure to make decisions. Things may fall into the hands of an out-of-state relative who has the energy to get it done, though not knowing you well. You can save your family this added stress by simply writing a few things down, and letting someone know where to find it.
"My family knows me, they'll know what to do". Guess again. Do they really know what music you'd want? Will they bury you in that outfit you hated? Will they find that yellowed copy of your favorite poem tucked in your yearbook? A Significant Other, with no legal claims, can be left out of this completely. Though your family may be very considerate, the opinions of close friends are not often sought or heard at this time.
"If I talk or write about my own death, I'll make it happen." Here is the definition of superstition: Any belief or attitude, based on fear or ignorance, that is inconsistent with the known laws of science or what is generally considered true and rational. In modern lingo, it says 'Get over yourself'.
"I'm young. I don't need to do this yet." Reality check. Five thousand teens a year get into cars, fully expecting to be home for dinner. They weren't. Two thousand teens a year are murdered, and certainly didn't expect it. One thousand teens a year die playing the choking game. They didn't intend to lose. Add the statistics for accidents and diseases, and you have a huge number of families needing to make arrangements. If your wishes are not known, they naturally decide to do what makes them feel better, or whatever is deemed appropriate.
"I'm old, and don't like to think about dying." Then think about the huge sums of money that your children will spend, thinking they are showing respect. Think of where they might bury you, or not bury you, and how you feel about that. Think of that piece that you promised someone, that your family doesn't know about. Think about the arguments or hurt feelings about who does take the piece. Will they bury you with jewelry you'd want someone to have? Do they know where your legal papers are? Do they know your favorite hymn? A fair number of people don't want memorial services. Unless that is written somewhere, no one will be willing to make a decision not to hold one, and take the guff afterwards from others who think it necessary. Do you want a big marble headstone? If you want donations to a charity or church in your memory, which one? How do you want people to remember you? You'd better let them know, or suffer the consequences. You may say none of this will matter to you after you are dead. Agreed. But it is precisely this kind of 'unfinished business' that can prolong the dying proces, making it more difficult for you and others. And most of it matters very, very much to those that will live long after you. Unfortunately, I have witnessed far too many families torn apart because of such issues.
This can, but need not be, a legal document. Simple, very detailed instructions, dated and signed by you, should suffice. Make sure someone you can count on knows the document exists, and will bring it out at the appropriate time.
You certainly don't have to do this alone. Call the family together and hand out paper and pens so everyone can write their own as you do yours. Once the nervousness is overcome, this can be a beautiful bonding experience.
If nothing else, it will be a great relief to the poor Funeral Director and Minister!
A checklist is provided below to help you get started. Let your birthday remind you to review and update it annually.
INSTRUCTIONS UPON MY DEATH
Name and the day's date
Are you an organ donor?
Is there a will and important legal papers (like insurance)? Where?
Location of family photos.
What friend or family member you would like to take charge of all this.
Is there a Funeral Home preference.
What items you want given, and to whom.
If casket, what kind. Preferred burial spot. Describe the headstone. What clothing do you want used. Do you want anything in your hands. Name pall bearers.
If cremation, what should be done with your ashes, and when.
Do you want donations made instead of flowers, and to whom.
Is there to be a memorial service.
If yes -specify who will conduct the service, where. Is there special music, prayer, writing,Bible verse to be included. Anything you want left out. Anything you want included.What you want printed on a memorial page to be handed out.
What you want included in an obituary. Names of parents and siblings. Where you were born and last went to school. Who you married, when. Organizations to which you belonged. Your hobbies. Some favorite things. Your nickname.
What worries you after you're gone.
What do you want people to remember about you.