It’s Bigger Than You

Beach Picture

By Mark T. Higgins

Hall-Wynne Funeral Service & Crematory, Durham, NC

Have the Talk of a Lifetime® promotes fostering conversations within families in advance on the generally taboo subject of death. The aim, however, is to underscore life by eliciting individual wishes of how one wants to be remembered through discussion with those who matter most. It is a mining process of reviewing one’s chronological highlights, treasured occasions, accomplishments, and values, solidified and lived out along the way, combined to create an enduring legacy for surviving family and friends. As a funeral director for many years, I’ve witnessed the changes and trends in memorial practices. Have the Talk of a Lifetime is a timely endeavor to help the public take seriously the impact various choices around end-of-life will have for better or worse. The program encourages a deeper dive with its emphasis on exploring ways memorial rituals facilitate our human need for honor and remembrance. In our death-averse culture I hear it frequently: “No fanfare for me, just scatter my ashes at the beach and raise a glass of champagne.” And, in fact this is what often happens as the newly bereaved ardently (and often mistakenly) cling to doing “exactly what Henry wanted.” When people decide to have “The Talk” with family members or other pertinent ones, it’s essential to bear in mind that ultimately, your death or mine will affect others on an emotional level. When death comes, we are out of the picture, and it is up to the ones in charge to hopefully balance some of what you or I expressed as important, and the needs of the living party to take meaningful leave of you and me. The Talk of a Lifetime therefore is not just about you! When making such decisions, we often act selfishly by neglecting the needs of family members – adults and children, friends, colleagues and the wider community/ies of which we have been a part. We cannot “feel the feelings” of grief in advance, and while planning ahead may relieve loved ones from the stress of making decisions under pressure, room must be allowed for survivors to take some ownership around choices when the time comes for their inner wellbeing. This important “Talk of a Lifetime” conversation should not take place in a vacuum. Funeral service professionals deal in loss, grief and ceremony day in and out. We navigate through the most complex family dynamics, and we are at our best when open in heart and mind with listening ears. We bring vast experience, valuable resources and a range of choices appealing to our diverse communities. The wisest step you can take is to invite your funeral director into this conversation. He or she can provide a useful framework and a comprehensive approach to moving what may begin as casual discussion to a pro-active plan that considers the relevance of all those who have a stake in conveying your story and mine, and sending what remains of us – whether to ground or fire – in a ritualized fashion that enables those we love to bear witness to who we were, what we meant and how our influence may endure.

One Response to “It’s Bigger Than You”

  1. avatar Funeral Services

    Really interesting piece, Mark. We have found on occasion that, upon losing a loved one, the widower has asked the funeral director if they can speak with them and their family about their own funeral. I guess losing their loved one focuses their mind on their own mortality, which is unsurprising. We all have had informal chats with our parents about what to do ‘when the time comes’ but it does sometime seem a little rushed when the time does come, again unsurprisingly with all the grief and raw emotion. Something more formal would certainly make the process leading up to and following the funeral a lot easier for the family and leave them to remember their loved ones they way they choose.

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