Q. Why do so many people refuse to prepare funeral and end-of-life instructions while they’re well, instead of saddling next of kin with all the decisions? It’s not morbid to discuss funeral arrangements and end-of-life care.
Before you take the step of planning for your own death, you have to accept the fact you’re going to die—and you don’t know when. Those are very disturbing thoughts, and there’s a tendency to deny or banish them. Your own enlightened attitude is less common than many families would like. I know of some people who have literally begged a relative for guidance—to no avail.
The fact is advance planning relieves survivors of an avalanche of decisions, often based on “guesswork” at a time when they are grieving and stressed. One man in his late seventies told me he wants his death to be the least possible problem and expense for his family. He has researched survivor benefits available to his next of kin and prepaid the dignified, economical funeral he wants. He has chosen cremation to minimize costs.
Not everyone is willing to go that far, but any planning you do lightens the load of survivors, and can prevent friction, as well. If you pick out the coffin or burial plot or cremation urn, you head off possible arguments over costs and what others think you’d prefer.
Control is another issue addressed by planning now, while you are very much alive. “Denial doesn’t give you more control. It gives you no control. If you don’t specify what you want, others can do whatever THEY want,” says Roberta Satow, Ph.D., author of Doing the Right Thing: Taking Care of Your Elderly Parents Even If They Didn’t Take Care of You. Do you want to be hooked up to a monitor in a coma for years and years? Who do you want to specify as your health advocate? Do you want to be cremated—or not. Do you care about where you’re buried? Renowned abstract artist Helen Frankenthaler, who died in 2011, wanted to be buried at Bennington College in Vermont—and made the arrangements in advance. If you don’t decide, someone else will.
Many websites, such as the Funeral Consumers Alliance and MyWonderfulLife.com, offer free detailed information on planning your own funeral; at ObitKit.com you'll find information on writing your own obituary. Funeral homes are another great resource and many have websites offering information and advice on funeral planning, including tips on how to start the discussion with family members.
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons / milele