By Mark Allen
Executive Director and CEO, International Order of the Golden Rule
Picture three sisters at a conference table with intense expressions on their faces. Sister #1 says, “What do you think Mom would have wanted at her funeral?” Sister #2 replies, “I don’t know. What do you think?” Sister #3 responds, “I have absolutely no idea what to do!”
Longer life spans and low child mortality rates have removed much of our incentive to think about an unpleasant subject like death, let alone consider what we want to happen at our funerals or end-of-life ceremonies. Death is no longer a daily part of life for most of us–or so we tell ourselves. We’re comfortable with delaying any thoughts about death as if that will make us immortal.
Lessen the Burden by Reducing Uncertainty
The death of a spouse, parent or sibling ranks as the most stressful experience a person will ever face. Many people believe that telling their families they want to be cremated or buried with no fanfare will remove a burden from their families. However, uncertainty is even more stressful than a negative outcome according to a recent UCL study. When we fail to tell survivors our authentic wishes for how we want to be remembered, we risk adding stress to those we love. After all, what could be more uncertain—and stressful–than blindly guessing how to pay tribute to another person’s life?
Planning ahead can greatly reduce the uncertainty families feel when a loved one dies. Consider making plans now to give your loved ones a roadmap that will make their journey smoother. Start by telling them your wishes. Describe your preferences in a document and let key people know where they can find it. Express your desire to be buried beneath a tree in a country cemetery. Disclose that you’d like to hold a gathering at an art gallery or have a traditional funeral in a church filled with religious symbols that hold special meaning for you. Name the songs you want played, the people you want to be involved, or poems or scripture that reflect the essence of your life.
Let a Professional Do the Heavy Lifting
The easiest way to plan ahead is to enlist the help of a professional funeral director. Funeral directors have come a long way since the days when everyone’s funeral looked pretty much the same. Today’s funeral director will help you determine how to translate what’s most meaningful to you into a one-of-a-kind tribute that helps survivors begin the process of healthy grieving. Search online for a Talk of a Lifetime expert in your area. He or she can be a tremendous resource.
How to Start an Awkward Conversation
Starting a discussion about your wishes may be awkward at first. Fortunately, several helpful tools are available through the Have the Talk of a Lifetime campaign that make these discussions easier. The Have the Talk of a Lifetime workbook is an excellent resource for capturing important aspects of your life that will lead to meaningful a funeral or end-of-life ceremony. In November, several new (and free) resources will be introduced under the theme, Time for Family, Time for Talk. Be sure to check them out.
Imagine if the three sisters mentioned earlier had talked to their mother about her funeral preferences. They’d have had peace of mind knowing their mother’s tribute truly reflected her life and values. After all, the point of funerals and end-of-life ceremonies is to allow us to focus on our grief, not on our uncertainty.