Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Funeral Planning: A Meaningful Gift from the Deceased to the Bereaved

There is a subject that many people simply do not want to discuss, Death. Most people postpone planning for death for various reasons. No one wants to consider another person's death and it often puts the person in touch with their own mortality, for which most are unprepared.

I've been to many funerals and counseled many people as they deal with the death of loved ones. The funerals that go smoothest are the ones that are planned in advance. If a person is over 40, it makes sense for the person to put together a funeral plan, which may or not include a funeral service, details the burial plan, selects a gravestone and gravesite, and gives instructions to the mourners. If a person has written a will, they need to consider putting together their funeral plan.

Too many people fear death enough that they will not plan. Even for the person who suffers from a lengthy illness, the caretakers often think about funeral planning when it is too late. I've seen too many times moments when people expect death to come and they call in the priest when it is nearly too late. Death still catches them off-guard and they haven't done their important work of closure.

By doing so, the deceased is giving the bereaved a meaningful gift. Instead of family disagreements and lack of harmony, everyone can say, "Let's respect the wishes of the deceased. This is what our loved one wanted." It makes it so much easier and it reduces the inevitable family discord. It also allows the mourners to do their most important task - to mourn their losses.

Think about what one has to do for a funeral. Writing an obituary can be done anytime after age forty. Most of the person's relationships will be formed by then and it will be easy to update if there are family changes. It seldom makes sense to write the obituary the morning after your loved ones dies, but that is what most people do simply because they haven't planned.

Choosing clothing for the burial is simple as well. What suit, dress, rosaries, jewelry, or shoes does the person want to wear? Making those decisions after death only adds to the stress because we deliberate whether we are choosing rightly for the person.

For a religious service, what music does the deceased hate? Make sure you don't sing it. Ask them while you have the time about their choice of songs for the beginning and end of the service or for a meditation in the middle of the program. It makes it easier for the music director who will be scratching his or her head as the person tries to satisfy the indecisive family.

For the readings as a religious service, find out while you can which Old Testament, Psalm, and New Testament reading they would like to fit their lives. Allow the one who is to be honored to contribute to the shaping of what is said about them and about God. What style, tone, and message do they want to convey to the mourners they are leaving behind? And by all means, it is respectful to give the preacher a couple days notice of the readings so he or she can prepare appropriate words.

Who is going to deliver the eulogy? A family friend, a sibling, a child? Make sure the person knows well in advance so the person has time to prepare. If at all possible, have the eulogy done at the wake service because the wake is the primary moment of sharing stories. It is a natural fit.

Many activities belong to the wake and do not belong at the funeral. The funeral should be simple and dedicated only to the religious portion. It is where the community commends the person's life to God as a completion of one's baptismal journey. It is not the time for their favorite popular song. That can be done at the wake.

As we are people who do not know just how to "Be," we try to "overdo." We insert our own 'darlings' into services because we may not be completely reconciled with the other person or with death. We have to do something.

For the wake, choose a series of photos and mementos of the person's life that can be displayed to others to communicate something about the person's life. This brings joy to the mourners and gives visitors a chance to learn something about the deceased. It takes pressure off the people who do not know what to say at the time of death.

At the cemetery, discuss beforehand that the ritual is short and that it will be difficult to walk away from the grave. Often people do not want to be the first one to leave and there is often an awkward set of time because people just are not ready to leave the body behind. Make certain you have an activity planned afterwards so those gathered can exit gracefully.

And always remember that death will stir up family anxieties. Family dynamics will be heightened, especially if activities around the death, funeral, and burial are not planned. It is uncomfortable and it is what is memorable. The deceased is often forgotten because someone in the family feels offended or unreconciled. Planning can reduce, but not eliminate, the distress the family will go through.

For the deceased to plan his or her funeral, the person is giving a remarkable gift to the bereaved. Everyone can appreciate that the person is well honored because the person's will is respected.

Reconcile with death. No one escapes it, but it doesn't have to be the enemy that we fear.