Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Have You Planned Your Funeral Yet ...?

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Funeral Blues
WH Auden

Hello, Everyone,

This morning, I attended the funeral of a friend's husband. Paul was a highly intelligent, accomplished and kindly man and the service's beautifully planned readings, stories, hymns, prayers and homily all flowed together to reflect the man he was. Being at that service reminded me, once again, of the importance of planning our funerals, committing those plans to paper and talking about them with our loved ones. 

Despite having lost my elder brother, both parents, my husband, my young nephew, my mentor, and my best friend, I have yet to plan my own service. What makes us (me) so reluctant to approach this task, especially when we know how much it can help our families when they are shaken and bereaved?  For some of us, the problem is anxiety about the whole notion of death and dying. For others it is the belief that funerals are for the living so they should plan the service. Others struggle with the unattended grief of earlier losses and can't bear to contemplate thoughts further loss, theirs or others'. Others, still, worry about religious differences within their families that could lead to conflict over their plans and so  shy away from the conversations. And still others, who have no religious background at all, have no idea where to start when it comes to planning a funeral ritual so they avoid it altogether.

But there are real advantages to planning ahead our end-of-life ceremonies and rituals. The first is its positive impact on loved ones. Pre-planning greatly reduces the stress of their decision-making after our deaths (as well as their guilt about not knowing our wishes). It also allows us to personalize the ceremony - to tell our story, comfort loved ones with our favourite readings and music, create space for healthy mourning and find ways to celebrate what we've valued in our lives. (While religious traditions may dictate much of what will happen in a service, there are usually personal choices available regarding music, readings and speakers.)

Here are a few things we can consider as we plan our own ceremonies:

1. What kind of ritual do I want?  A funeral service followed by burial or cremation? A funeral service followed by graveside service? A memorial service after burial or cremation? A service in my own home? A funeral service in the city where I die and second service in another locale? Something other than a service? Do I want my body present? Do I want the coffin open?
 2.  Do I want any additional ceremonies? A viewing, a wake, a visitation, a reception after the service, a one year anniversary commemoration?
3.  How closely do I want to observe my religion's mourning rituals?
4.  Where do I want the ceremony to be held? (Plus a second choice in case it is necessary) Where do I want my remains to be buried/scattered? 
5.  Who would I ask to officiate? (Plus a second choice) 
6.  Who will be my pallbearers (6)?
7.  Who will tell stories or deliver eulogies (3)?
8.  Who will read prayers, poems or other readings (3)?
9.  The readings I want to include are (3)
10. Music I want to include - prelude, postlude, songs, hymns, solos to be played/sung during the ceremony
11. What types of flowers would I like to be used to decorate the room/coffin?
12. Do I want a headstone, memorial bench or other marker? How would I like it inscribed? 
13. Are there favourite charitable organizations where a donation could be made in my name?
14. What are the groups I've belonged to that should be notified of and invited to the ceremony? (with their contact information)
15. Who are the people my family may not know who should be notified and invited? (with contact information)
16.  What wording do I want for my obituary, where do I want it placed, and for how long? 
17. Do I want my body or ashes repatriated - to the country where I was born? To the place where my grandmother or spouse was buried?

As you can see, there are actually many places where our input can make a difference.

That said, we should also remember that, as important as our planning may be, it is equally important to give loved ones explicit permission to make changes in our plans should the need arise. I have worked with more than one person whose guilt over changing funeral arrangements has helped to trigger complicated grief. Gifting your family and friends with your wishes, plus the room to move, will reduce their stress considerably.

And now, having written this post, I can safely say that by the end of the week I will have planned my own funeral service. I hope that you will take this opportunity to reflect on the questions above and give yourself (and your family) the gift of doing the same.

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